By Syed Ziarmal Hashmi, Lolita C. Baldor and Joseph Krauss
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban have condemned the attack outside Kabul’s airport, saying it took place in an area controlled by US forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says his group “strongly condemns” Thursday’s attack and is paying close attention to security.
The attack is believed to have been carried out by an ally of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan, which is different and more radical than the Taliban.
This is a breaking news update. Below is an earlier story from AP.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Two suicide bombers and gunmen targeted a crowd near Kabul airport on Thursday, days after a massive airlift that has called for thousands to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Russian officials said at least 13 people were killed and 15 were injured.
A US official said the complex attack was considered “definitely” by the Islamic State group, whose allies in Afghanistan originated from disaffected Taliban members, who hold an even more extreme view of Islam.
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 blasts, saying one was near an airport entrance and the other a short walk from a hotel.
The US official said that members of the US military were also among the injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operations.
Even as the area was affected, the official said evacuation flights were continuing from Kabul airport, which Western governments had previously warned was a target.
According to Adam Khan, an Afghan waiting nearby, there was an explosion in the crowd waiting to enter the airport. He said it appeared that several people were killed or injured, some of whom lost their body parts.
Several countries urged people to avoid the airport during the day, with one saying there was a risk of suicide bombings. But within days – or even hours for some countries – before evacuation efforts were over, few people heeded the calls.
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.
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 vowed not to attack Western forces during the evacuation, but have insisted that the US pull out foreign troops by the August 31 deadline.
Overnight, warnings emerged from western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan’s ally of the Islamic State group, which has likely raised its ranks by the Taliban freeing prisoners during their nationwide attack.
British Armed Forces Minister James Happy told the BBC early on Thursday that there was “very, very credible reporting of an impending attack” at the airport, possibly within “hours”. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Cru said his country had received information from the US and other countries about the “threat of mass suicide attacks of people”.
The acting US ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the overnight security threat at Kabul airport was perceived as “clearly credible, imminent, compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he did not give details and did not say whether the threat remained.
The explosion was reported shortly after. The White House said that US President Joe Biden has been informed about the explosion.
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, with Australia’s foreign minister saying “there is a high risk of a terrorist attack”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any attack was imminent in the wake of these warnings.
Earlier on Thursday, the Taliban showered water on people gathered at an airport gate to try to drive away crowds, as someone launched 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.”
While waiting for Sadat, the sound of gunfire echoed in the area. “There is anarchy because of the chaotic crowd,” she said, blaming America for the chaos.
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.”
Many Afghans share those fears. The radical Islamist group took back control of the country nearly 20 years after being ousted in a US-led offensive following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaeda carried out while being sheltered by the group.
Senior US officials said Wednesday’s warning from the embassy was related to specific threats associated with the Islamic State group and possible vehicle bombs. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing military operations.
Sunni extremists have carried out a series of brutal attacks targeting Afghanistan’s predominantly Shia Muslim minority, including the 2020 attack on a Kabul maternity hospital in which they killed women and infants .
The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. But IS fighters were freed from prisons along with other prisoners during the Taliban’s rapid advance. The extremists may have confiscated heavy weapons and equipment left behind by Afghan soldiers.
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,” said Canadian General Wayne Eyre, the country’s acting chief of defense staff.
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.
French Prime Minister Jean Casteux told RTL radio that his country’s efforts would pay off on Friday evening. Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned: “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.
The Taliban have promised to return Afghanistan to safety and vowed not to take revenge on those who opposed them or withhold progress on human rights. But many Afghans are skeptical.
Ziyar Yad, an Afghan journalist for private broadcaster Tolo News, said Taliban fighters beat him and his associate and confiscated their cameras, technical equipment and a mobile phone as they tried to report on poverty in Kabul.
“This issue has been shared with Taliban leaders; However, the perpetrators are yet to be arrested, which poses a serious threat to the freedom of expression,” Yaad wrote on Twitter.
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.