At least nine civilians, most of them children, have been killed by three suicide attackers in a botched attack on the Indian consulate in an eastern Afghan city near the border with Pakistan, according to security officials.
22 police officers and over 70 Taliban fighters died in two days of fighting earlier in the week in the same province touched off by a feud between militants and villagers, authorities also reported.
Militants, mostly smaller groups based in Pakistan, have targeted Indian diplomatic interests multiple times in recent years.
In the latest attack, police fired on the militants as they approached a checkpoint outside the consulate in Jalalabad, prompting one of them to set off their explosives-laden car, said Masum Khan Hashimi, the deputy police chief of Nangarhar province.
The blast killed nine bystanders, and wounded another 24 people including a policeman. Six of the dead and three of the wounded were children, said Jalalabad hospital director Dr Humayun Zahir. He did not give their specific ages.
All three attackers also died, although it was not clear how many were killed by police fire and how many by the explosion.
In New Delhi, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said that all Indian officials in the consulate were safe.
Afghanistan’s main insurgent group, the Taliban, denied in a text message that it had carried out the attack.
Militant groups known for attacking Indian interests include Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), blamed for the 2008 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people. LeT has been active in Afghanistan in recent years, often teaming up with insurgent groups operating in the eastern part of the country near the frontier with Pakistan. Last year the US-led military coalition arrested a senior LeT leader in eastern Afghanistan.
India has been frustrated by Pakistan’s failure to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has strong historical links with Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan has always viewed India as a potential rival in Afghanistan, which it considers its strategic backyard.
“Such coward attacks will not deter India from providing reconstruction and developmental assistance to our true friend, Afghanistan,” the Indian Embassy Tweeted in reaction to the consulate bombing.