A suicide car bomber struck Tuesday near the home of a former Afghan vice president and a hotel frequented by Westerners, killing at least eight people and wounding nearly 40 in a neighborhood considered one of Kabul's safest.
The blast was the deadliest in the heart of the city since an Oct. 28 assault on a guesthouse filled with U.N. staffers killed eight people, including five U.N. workers.
Tuesday's attack occurred at mid-morning in Kabul's heavily guarded Wazir Akbar Khan district, an area favored by foreigners and wealthy Afghans.
Security officials at the scene suspected the target was the home of former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud _ brother of legendary anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"Of course we were the target," said Shah Asmat, an aide to the former vice president. "Before, the Taliban killed Massoud. Now, they tried to kill his brother."
Ahmad Zia Massoud, who served in President Hamid Karzai's first administration that expired last month, was home but he was not injured.
The scene was chaotic, with rescue workers rushing victims on stretchers past the suicide bomber's shattered vehicle, which flipped and was engulfed in flames. Thick black smoke rose from the area, situated at the base of a hill adorned with a huge billboard portrait of the late Massoud.
The explosion was heard several miles away at the Foreign Ministry, where about 200 officials and diplomats were meeting to discuss corruption in the Afghan government.
During a speech at the gathering, Karzai said two of Massoud's guards were among the dead. In a statement released later by the palace, Karzai condemned the bombing as an attack on "humanity and Islam."
Four men and four women were killed and nearly 40 people were wounded, Ministry of Interior spokesman Zemeri Bashary said. Former Kabul police chief Salim Asas, who lives in a house near the explosion, was wounded along with a family member and another relative was killed, said Abdul Ghafor Sayedzada, chief of criminal investigation for the Kabul police.
The attack slightly damaged the Heetal Hotel, which is owned by the son of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as president of Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996. Three homes, including the former vice president's, were severely damaged and windows in nearby buildings were shattered.
A witness at the scene reported seeing a black four-wheel-drive vehicle near a barricade on the street.
"It drove very slowly to the checkpoint," said Hamayun Azizi a 22-year-old English student at Kabul University. "And then it blew up."
Although bombings are far less common in Kabul that in Baghdad, attacks in the capital have increased over the last year. NATO commanders fear more violence throughout the country following President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 reinforcements to try to reverse the tide against the Taliban.
Tuesday's blast heavily damaged a building containing the offices of an Internet service provider. Two Indians who worked as cooks for the company were slightly injured, according to Vishnu Prakash, a spokesman for India's External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi.
The explosion also damaged the homes of three Indian Embassy staffers in Kabul, he said. On Oct. 8, another suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside the Indian Embassy, killing 17 people, mostly civilians, and wounding at least 76.
"We unequivocally condemn the cowardly act. Our heart goes out to the victims," Prakash said.
As evening fell, Karmuddin, a 33-year-old man who lives about a block from the blast, helped his father shovel a pile of broken glass into a wheelbarrow.
"I was sitting with my friends inside when it happened," said Karmuddin, who like many Afghans goes by only one name. "All the glass just blew out."
In other violence Tuesday, two Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in Helmand province when a suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a joint vehicle patrol of Afghan and international forces, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense. Two Afghan soldiers were wounded in the attack.
NATO said a U.S. service member was killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, but it did not provide further details.
A 19-year-old sergeant from the Estonian army also was killed Tuesday in an explosion after his unit was ambushed by insurgents in Helmand, according to the Defense Ministry in Estonia's capital Tallinn.
Separately, a blast occurred Tuesday at the compound of Development Alternatives Inc., a Bethesda, Md.-based consulting firm on contract to USAID, in Paktia province, the U.S. Embassy said. There were no American casualties, but provincial police chief Gen. Azizdin Wardak said five Afghans and a Nepalese national were killed.