Two Indian nationals were among 25 people killed in a string of bombings across Afghanistan on Monday, days after Washington expanded the US military’s authority to strike the Taliban.
The Taliban and the Islamic State both claimed the first attack, which killed 14 security guards, including the Indians, working for the Canadian embassy in Kabul in a massive blast that left their yellow minibus spattered with blood.
“We have learnt that 2 Indian nationals, Ganesh Thapa & Govind Singh from Dehradun, died tragically in the blast in Kabul today morning,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted late on Monday night.
The Indian government is working with its Afghan counterpart to repatriate their bodies at the earliest, Swarup said without giving other details.
The Indians were working for Sabre International, a private security company.
Earlier reports had said all the security guards killed by the blast triggered by a suicide bomber were Nepalese nationals.
Soon after a Taliban spokesman on Twitter claimed the attack, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan released a competing claim in which it named and pictured the alleged bomber, according to the SITE monitoring group.
An Afghan intelligence source said officials were investigating the IS claim, which was denied by the Taliban.
The Taliban also claimed a second, smaller blast in south Kabul that the interior ministry said killed one person.
The bombings were followed hours later by an attack on a market in the remote northeastern Badakhshan province that authorities said killed 10 people, with the death toll set to rise.
The wave of violence came 10 days after Washington announced an expansion of the US military’s authority to conduct air strikes against the Taliban, a significant boost for Afghan forces who have limited close air-support capacities.
Police said the attack on the security guards was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot on a key road leading east out of Kabul towards Jalalabad. The interior ministry said in a statement that five Nepali citizens and four Afghans were wounded.
The Canadian embassy confirmed the “cowardly” attack in a tweet and said it had employed the guards.
The explosion could be heard across Kabul and a plume of smoke was seen above the site of the blast on Jalalabad road, a main route housing many foreign compounds and military facilities. The blast shattered the windows of nearby shops.
Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said his country “strongly condemns” the killings.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on social media, saying it was “against the forces of aggression” in Afghanistan. The IS claim, which SITE said was released on Twitter and Telegram, named the bomber as Irfanullah Ahmed and pictured him armed and dressed in combat fatigues in front of an IS flag.
The Taliban poured scorn on the IS claim. “They neither have the capability to carry out attacks in Kabul, and nor are they supported by people. Today’s attack was carried out by one of our mujahideen, and Daesh claiming they did it is baseless and hollow,” Mujahid told AFP by phone.
The Kabul blasts were followed hours later by a motorcycle bomb in a crowded market in Keshim district of Badakhshan that officials said killed 10 people and wounded 40.
The UN mission in Afghanistan said five children were among the dead as it condemned the attack, for which no one claimed responsibility.
Mountainous Badakhshan had been relatively peaceful until the Taliban briefly captured Kunduz city last year, with insecurity spreading into other northeastern provinces.
The resurgent Taliban have been fighting against the Western-backed Kabul government since they were ousted from power by a US-led invasion in late 2001.
They have been gaining ground all around the country but IS too is making inroads into Afghanistan, particularly in the east, where they are challenging the Taliban on their own turf.
The US and NATO combat mission in Afghanistan ended in December 2014. US forces have been in an advisory role since then, while carrying out counterterrorism missions against the IS and remnants of Al Qaeda.
US forces had only been authorised to hit Taliban targets for defensive reasons, or to protect Afghan soldiers. But the recent changes mean US troops can now work more closely with local fighters in striking the Taliban, who have demanded the departure of all foreign forces.