A powerful vehicle-borne bomb exploded on Wednesday in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul, killing nearly 80 people and wounding several hundred.

The blast occurred during the morning rush hour in a busy part of the Afghan capital that houses many foreign embassies, government departments and the presidential palace. The attack is one of the most serious seen in the capital for several months.

“It was a car bomb near the German embassy, but there are several other important compounds and offices near there too. It is hard to say what the exact target is,” Kabul police Basir Mujahid said.

The explosion shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of metres (yards) away.

Witnesses described dozens of cars choking the roads as wounded survivors and panicked children on their way to school sought safety. People struggled to get through security checkpoints to search for loved ones.

According to local television channel ToloNews, the bomb might have been placed inside a water tanker.

Taliban denies responsibility

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the movement’s fighters had no involvement and said the movement condemned any such untargeted attacks that caused civilian casualties.

Violence around Afghanistan has been rising throughout the year, as the Taliban push to defeat the US-backed government.

Rising death toll

Earlier, a public health spokesperson said at least 67 wounded people had been taken to hospitals around Kabul.

Local media organisations were citing higher figures.

Spring offensive 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack came as the resurgent Taliban are stepping up their annual “spring offensive” – a mix of conventional, guerrilla and suicide attacks on Afghan and foreign forces.

An attack in April on an Afghan military base that killed 170 people has been the deadliest so far.

Daesh has also claimed responsibility for several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armoured NATO convoy that killed at least eight people and wounded 28 on May 3.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has warned of “another tough year” for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan, where more than one-third of the country is outside of government control.

The blast was the latest in a long line of attacks in the Afghan capital. Kabul province had the highest number of casualties in the first three months of 2017 thanks to multiple attacks in the city, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.

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