By Syed Ziarmal Hashmi, Lolita C. Baldor and Joseph Krauss
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a crowd of Afghans at Kabul’s airport on Thursday, turning the scene of desperation into horror as days of an airlift fleeing the Taliban takeover . Russian officials said at least 13 people were killed and 15 were injured.
One of the attackers killed people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the scorching sun, throwing the bodies into the fetid waters. Those who were expected to exit the flight moments earlier can be seen carrying the injured in ambulances, their own clothes stained with blood.
A US official said the complex attack is believed to have been carried out by the Islamic State group. Afghanistan is far more radical than the IS-affiliated Taliban, which recently took control of the country in a lightning strike and condemned the attack.
Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but were forced to flee the country in the last few days of a US-led evacuation before the US officially ended its 20-year presence. Desperate Afghans ignored that advice. on 31 August.
At least 13 people were killed and 15 were injured, according to Russia’s foreign ministry, which gave the first official casualty count. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also confirmed the explosions and said there were casualties but did not give any figures. He said one blast was near the airport entrance and the other was a short distance from a hotel.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operations, said members of the US military were among the wounded.
Despite the area being affected, the official said evacuation flights from Kabul airport were continuing.
Adam Khan was waiting nearby when he saw the first blast outside the AB gate. He said it appeared that several people were killed or injured, including some with disabilities.
The second blast took place at or near the Barron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Britons and Americans, have been asked to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.
A former Royal Marine who runs an animal shelter in Afghanistan says he and his staff were caught after an explosion near the airport.
“Suddenly we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted, if our driver had not looked back he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47,” Paul “Penn” Farthing told UK Press The association told the news agency.
Farthing is trying to get employees of his Naujad charity out of Afghanistan with the group’s rescued animals.
He is among thousands who are trying to escape. Over the past week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most fascinating images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the takeover of the Taliban, as flight after flight carries those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal regime. When the Taliban were last in power, they largely confined women to their homes and imposed widespread, harsh restrictions.
Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and began to withdraw their troops and diplomats, marking the beginning of the end of one of the largest airlifts in history. The Taliban have insisted that foreign troops be pulled out of the US self-set deadline of August 31 – and the evacuation must end.
In Washington, US President Joe Biden spent much of the morning in the secure White House Situation Room, where he was briefed on the explosions and honored with his national security team and commanders in Kabul.
Overnight, warnings emerged from western capitals about the threat from IS, which has raised its ranks by the Taliban freeing prisoners as it progresses through Afghanistan.
Shortly before the attack, Ross Wilson, the acting US ambassador to Kabul, said that the overnight security threat at Kabul airport was perceived as “clearly credible, imminent, compelling.” But he did not give details of this in an interview given to ABC News.
Late Wednesday, the US embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens not to go to the airport on Thursday.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any attack was imminent at the airport, where the group’s fighters have deployed and sometimes used heavy-handed tactics to control the crowd. After the attack, he appeared to shy away from blame, noting that the airport was controlled by US troops.
Before the explosion, the Taliban sprayed water on people gathered at an airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone fired tear gas canisters elsewhere.
27-year-old Afghani Nadia Sadat took her 2-year-old daughter with her outside the airport. She and her husband, who had worked with Coalition forces, missed a call from a number they believed was the State Department and were trying to get to the airport with no luck. In the crowd, her husband tried to take her inside.
“We have to find a way to evacuate because our lives are in danger,” Sadat said. “My husband received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no chance but to run away.”
Aman Karimi, 50, took her daughter and her family to the airport, fearing the Taliban would target her husband for working with NATO.
“The Taliban have started looking for people working with NATO,” he said. “They are looking for him from house to house at night.”
IS’s Sunni extremists, with links to the group’s more famous allies in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of brutal attacks targeting the predominantly Shia Muslim minority of Afghanistan, including a maternity hospital in Kabul. But the 2020 attack is also included. Killed women and infants.
The Taliban have fought Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, where the Taliban took back control nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a US-led offensive. The Americans followed the 9/11 attacks while being sheltered by the group by al-Qaeda.
Amid warnings and pending US withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuation, and European nations prepared to halt or halt their own actions.
“The reality on the ground is that the airport perimeter is closed. The Taliban has tightened the noose. It is very difficult for anyone to go through this point,” Canadian General Wayne Eyre, the country’s acting Chief of Defense Staff, said before the attack.
Lt Col Georges Eden, Luxembourg’s military representative in neighboring Pakistan, said Friday would mark the official end for US allies. But two Biden administration officials denied that was the case.
A third official said the US worked with its allies to coordinate each country’s departure, and some countries asked for more time and were allowed.
“Most depart later in the week,” he said, while some were halting operations on Thursday. All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the information publicly.
Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen previously warned categorically: “It is no longer safe to fly into or out of Kabul.”
The last flight to Denmark has already taken off, and Poland and Belgium have also announced the end of their evacuations. The Dutch government said it had been asked by the US to leave on Thursday.
But Pentagon spokesman Kirby said some planes would continue to fly.
“The evacuation operation in Kabul will not be completed in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate more and more people till the end of the mission,” he said in a tweet.
The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans to board commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it is not clear which airlines will return to the airport controlled by the militants. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said talks are ongoing between his country and the Taliban about helping Turkish civilian experts run the facility.
Baldor reported from Washington and Cross reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London; John Gambrel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Sylvie Corbett in Paris; Jan M. Olsen from Copenhagen, Denmark; Tamim Akhgar and Andrew Wilkes in Istanbul; James Laporta in Boca Raton, Florida; Mike Korder in The Hague, Netherlands; Philip Crowther in Islamabad; Colleen Barry in Milan; and Aamer Madani and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.