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Taliban strike near a Kabul hospital, killing 95 people

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban Saturday carried out the second big bombing against a well-secured Afghanistan target within in a week when a suicide bomber detonated an ambulance stuffed with explosives outside a hospital in central Kabul, killing 95 people, officials said.

The attacker got past a security checkpoint by telling officers that he was taking a patient to the hospital, said Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.

More than 150 people were wounded in the blast, which was heard across Kabul and damaged other buildings in the area.

The toll climbed sharply throughout the day, making the blast one of the deadliest in the 16-year war in Afghanistan. It came a week after Taliban militants attacked Kabul’s six-story Intercontinental hotel and killed 22 people in an hours-long siege that ended only after Afghan and U.S. special operations forces went room to room to find the attackers. Several guests escaped by jumping off balconies.

Several American citizens were killed or wounded in the hotel attack, Afghan officials said.

The scale of Taliban attacks has increased in recent months despite a surge in U.S. troops advising Afghan forces and assurances from American military commanders that the coalition troops are turning the tide in the war.

Saturday’s attack took place in the early afternoon between two checkpoints leading to 350-bed Jumhuriat hospital, which was built by the Chinese government a decade ago. Surrounding it is a bustling neighborhood housing government buildings and commercial streets lined with poultry vendors and copy shops, where many office workers were milling about.

Mohammad Halim, a 56-year-old public servant who was standing near the Jumhuriat hospital gate, said the blast knocked him to the ground and left him unconscious.

When he awoke, he saw “a horror scene.”

“Everywhere was full of dark smoke and I couldn’t hear anything,” Halim said. “After a few minutes I saw dozens of people lying on the ground.”

Many of the injured were taken to Emergency hospital, an Italian-run charity facility that treats war victims and was so deluged that it had to turn some patients away.

“It’s a massacre,” the charity’s coordinator in Afghanistan, Dejan Panic, said on Twitter.

Outside Emergency hospital, Mohammad Naser, a 44-year-old employee of a nongovernmental organization, said he was watching TV video of the blast site when he recognized his cousin being taken away in an ambulance.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I rushed to the hospital to see him, but you can see the crowd here at the gate. I could only find his name on a list of the wounded.”

In a statement, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bass condemned the attack, calling it a “senseless and cowardly bombing.”

The death toll was the highest in a single attack in Afghanistan since last June, when a truck bomb exploded outside the German Embassy in Kabul, near an entrance to the so-called Green Zone that houses many government and diplomatic buildings.

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