KABUL, Afghanistan – Militants launched an attack Saturday on the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad, killing at least 10 Afghans and fueling fears of a violent regional power struggle once foreign troops leave in late 2014.
Three suicide bombers in a red Toyota Corolla were stopped by police at the first checkpoint leading to the consulate around 10 a.m., said Masum Khan Hashimi, deputy police chief for Nangarhar province. Two of the assailants jumped from the car, at which point one was shot and killed by police, the second one detonated his vest and the third still inside detonated explosives contained in the vehicle.
Most of those killed were children attending classes at a nearby mosque, officials said. An Afghan policeman at the gate was wounded, Hashimi said, along with at least 20 civilians, but there were no Indian consulate employee casualties. The blast also damaged houses, vehicles and shops. “It was a very heavy car bomb that totally destroyed the nearby market,” Hashimi said.
The Taliban denied responsibility in a text message to journalists. “The attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad was not done by our mujahedeen, and we strongly deny having a hand in the attack,” said the message, attributed to Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.
India condemned the attack, blaming “outside forces” without naming a specific party.
Some analysts said they thought the Taliban carried out the attack but decided to deny it because the operation killed so many Afghan civilians, especially children, and because Pakistan may have told it to distance itself hoping to mask Islamabad’s role.
The Indian embassy in Kabul was hit by attacks in 2008 and 2009 that together killed more than 60 people. Indian engineers working on Afghan development projects have been targeted, and a Kabul guest house used by Indian government workers was also hit in 2010.