At least 150 people died and hundreds more were wounded in a huge blast during morning rush hour in the centre of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, the president of the country has confirmed.
President Ashraf Ghani's revision of the death toll on Tuesday brought the number confirmed to have been killed dramatically upwards, making the attack the deadliest since the American-led coalition invaded the country in 2001.
Among those injured in the blast were 11 US State Department contractors — all of who were American citizens — a US defense official told BuzzFeed News. None of their injuries are life threatening.
The blast detonated at around 8:25 a.m. local time (12:25 a.m. ET) Wednesday morning in downtown Kabul, near Zanbaq Square. The road leads to the Afghan presidential palace as well as a number of foreign embassies, and at that time of the morning was crowded with commuters.
Ghani announced the latest death toll at the opening of the so-called Kabul Process, a gathering of 23 nations, as well as representatives from the EU, the UN and NATO to discuss security and political issues in the country, the Associated Press reported.
Last week, in the immediate wake of the bomb, Ghani condemned the "cowardly attack," which took place on the fifth day of the Muslim holy festival of Ramadan. Former president Hamid Karzai also tweeted to condemn the "inhuman" assault.
"The United States strongly condemns today’s deadly attack in Kabul," said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. "We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and injured, including our Afghan partners, members of the diplomatic and international communities, and many innocent Afghan citizens. In the face of this senseless and cowardly act, the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan is unwavering."
Emergency, an Italian medical NGO that works in Kabul, said that their emergency room was full in the immediate aftermath of the explosion on Wednesday. "This is HUGE," they tweeted.
Graphic photographs and video shared online immediately following the blast showed a huge plume of smoke above the buildings, as scores of emergency workers and Kabul residents rushed to help. Residents said the force of the blast shattered windows up to a mile away.
The scale of the attack prompted hospitals in the capital to ask for blood donations to help treat the wounded.
International organizations and correspondents based in Kabul tweeted confirming the size and scale of the blast, with many writing that it was felt across the city.
There were also fears that given the location of the explosion – near embassies – international staff were caught up in the blast. The German Embassy confirmed that a member of its staff had been injured and an Afghan security guard had been killed. French officials said their building had been damaged, but that its personnel were accounted for. India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, whose embassy was among the closest to the blast, said all its staff were accounted for.
The area was considered one of the safest in the city, with 3-meter-high walls surrounding it. The blast raises questions about how a bomb – reportedly placed in either a water tanker or a lorry – could have been planted.
No group has claimed the explosion. The Taliban announced its traditional spring offensive last month, and ISIS has been reported to have made advances in the country. Both groups have attacked the capital before.
A spokesperson for the Taliban told Al Jazeera that the group is not responsible for the attack. A statement purporting to be from the group also appeared online and appeared to reject and attack and the subsequent civilian casualties.
The United States still has 8,400 troops in the country. Another 5,000 are divided between NATO allies, who continue a peacekeeping mission started more than a decade ago.
Jens Stoltenburg, NATO secretary general, was among the first to express his condolences for the loss of life.
Pakistan's Foreign Office also released a statement, condemning the attack and mourning those killed. "Pakistan strongly condemns terrorist attack in Kabul this morning that has caused loss of precious human lives and injuries to many," it read. India's PM Narendra Modi also condemned the attack.
The blast detonated near a number of media offices, including the BBC bureau. In a tweet this morning, it confirmed Mohamad Nazir, a member of its staff, had died as he drove staff to the office this morning. He leaves behind four children and his wife.
Six other BBC employees were injured, although their injuries were not "life threatening."
Amnesty International strongly condemned the attack on civilians, and said it was yet another sign that the conflict in Afghanistan was not winding down, but "dangerously widening".
The international NGO's Afghanistan Researcher Horia Mosadiq said the " horrific act of violence and a heartbreaking reminder" that civilians continued to suffer. “There must be an immediate, impartial and effective investigation that delivers justice to the victims," they said, calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate and hold the perpetrators to account.
John Hudson contributed to this report.