KABUL, Afghanistan A car bomb ripped through the front wall of the Indian Embassy in central Kabul on Monday, killing 40 people in the deadliest attack in Afghanistan's capital since the fall of the Taliban, officials said.
The massive explosion detonated by a suicide bomber damaged two embassy vehicles entering the compound, near where dozens of Afghan men line up every morning to apply for visas.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing and said it was carried out by militants trying to rupture the friendship between Afghanistan and India.
The Afghan Interior Ministry hinted that the attack was carried out with help from Pakistan's intelligence service, saying that "terrorists have carried out this attack in coordination and consultation with some of the active intelligence circles in the region." The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said Pakistan condemned the attack and terrorism in all forms.
The embassy is located on a busy, tree-lined street near Afghanistan's Interior Ministry in the city center that is protected on both ends by police checkpoints. Several nearby shops were damaged or destroyed in the blast, and smoldering ruins covered the street. The explosion rattled much of the Afghan capital.
Shortly after the attack, a woman ran out of a Kabul hospital screaming, crying and hitting her face with both of her hands. Her two children, a girl named Lima and a boy named Mirwais, had been killed.
"Oh my God!" the woman screamed. "They are both dead."
Najib Nikzad, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the blast killed 40 people. Earlier, Abdullah Fahim, the spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the explosion killed at least 28 people and wounded 141, but an update of the number of injured was not immediately available. The Interior Ministry said six police officers and three embassy guards were among those killed.
In Delhi, India's foreign minister said four Indians, including the military attache and a diplomat, were killed in the attack. Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India will send a high-level delegation to Kabul in coming days.
The blast also killed five Afghan security guards at the nearby Indonesian Embassy, where windows were shattered and doors and gates broken. Two diplomats were slightly wounded, Indonesia's foreign ministry said.
In Washington, Gordon Johndroe, a White House national security spokesman, offered condolences to the victims.
"Extremists continue to show their disregard for all human life and their willingness to kill fellow Muslims as well as others," he said. "The United States stands with the people of Afghanistan and India as we face this common enemy."
Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence from Taliban militants in recent months. Insurgents are packing bombs with more explosives than ever, one reason why more U.S. and NATO troops were killed in June than any month since the 2001 invasion.
Still, a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied that the militants were behind the bombing. The Taliban tend to claim responsibility for attacks that inflict heavy tolls on international or Afghan troops, and deny responsibility for attacks that primarily kill Afghan civilians.
"Whenever we do a suicide attack, we confirm it," Mujahid said. "The Taliban did not do this one."
The 8:30 a.m. explosion was the deadliest attack in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the deadliest in Afghanistan since a suicide bomber killed more than 100 people at a dog fighting competition in Kandahar province in February.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
In Delhi, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said the attack would not deter the mission from "fulfilling our commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan."
Afghanistan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta visited the embassy shortly after the attack, ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmed Baheen said.
"India and Afghanistan have a deep relationship between each other. Such attacks of the enemy will not harm our relations," Spanta told the embassy staff, according to Baheen.
The Indian ambassador and his deputy were not inside the embassy at the time of the blast, Baheen said.
Militants have frequently attacked Indian offices and projects around Afghanistan since launching an insurgency after the ouster of the Taliban at the end of the 2001. Many Taliban militants have roots in Pakistan, which has long had a troubled relationship with India.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Islamic militia was supported by Pakistan, India's arch-rival. Pakistan today remains wary of strengthening ties between Afghanistan and India.
The United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan said that "in no culture, no country, and no religion is there any excuse or justification for such acts."
"The total disregard for innocent lives is staggering and those behind this must be held responsible," the envoy, Kai Eide, said.
The U.N. sent an e-mail to its staff advising them to stay off Kabul's roads because of reports that a second suicide car bomber was in the city.
The embassy attack was the sixth suicide bombing in Kabul this year. Insurgent violence has killed more than 2,200 people mostly militants in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press count of official figures.
The embassy in the last several days had beefed up security by installing large, dirt-filled blast walls often used by military forces.
While Afghanistan has seen increasing violence in recent months, Kabul has been largely spared the random bomb attacks that Taliban militants use in their fight against Afghan and international troops.
In September 2006, a suicide bomber near the gates of the Interior Ministry killed 12 people and wounded 42 others. After that blast, additional guards and barriers were posted on the street.
In two separate bombings Monday against police convoys in the country's south, seven officers were killed and 10 others were wounded, officials said.
In Uruzgan province, a roadside bomb killed four police on patrol and wounded seven others, said provincial police chief Juma Gul Himat.
In the Zhari district of Kandahar, another roadside blast killed three officers and wounded three others, said district chief Niyaz Mohammad Sarhadi.NATO's International Security Assistance Force, meanwhile, said one of its soldiers died in an attack in the south on Sunday.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.