JUST IN:. Many dead as explosion rocks Kabul airport

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An explosion went off outside Kabul’s airport, where thousands of people have flocked as they try to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

A “complex attack” Thursday at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, where a massive international airlift has been underway, caused a number of US and civilian casualties, the Pentagon said.

A Taliban official told Al Jazeera that at least 11 people were killed in the explosion.

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The Pentagon said there were at least two explosions near Kabul’s airport amid a huge evacuation effort from Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport’s Abbey Gate and the other close to the nearby Baron Hotel. Two US officials said at least one of the explosions appeared to be from a suicide bombing.

“We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties,” Kirby said on Twitter. “We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”

We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of US & civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate. We will continue to update.

— John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 26, 2021

There were chaotic scenes outside the Emergency Hospital as dozens of cars and ambulances brought in the wounded including the elderly and children, Al Jazeera’s Ali M Latifi reported.

Talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan are underway as buses with French citizens and people France wants to protect are at the entrance of Kabul airport, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, while visiting Ireland.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, Macron said he could not guarantee that France would be successful in evacuating people from the country

Several countries urged people to avoid the airport earlier in the day, with one saying there was a threat of a bombing. But just days – or even hours for some nations – before the evacuation effort ends, few appeared to heed the call.

A US official said an initial report suggested the explosion appeared to be caused by a suicide bomb, but cautioned that the assessment could change.

The UK’s defence ministry said it was working urgently to establish what had happened at Kabul airport following reports of an explosion.

“We are working urgently to establish what has happened in Kabul and its impact on the ongoing evacuation effort,” the defence ministry said on Twitter.

“Our primary concern remains the safety of our personnel, British citizens and the citizens of Afghanistan. We are in close contact with our US and other NATO allies at an operational level on the immediate response to this incident.”

Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from Afghanistan’s ISIL group affiliate, which likely has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during their blitz across the country.

British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told the BBC early Thursday there was ”very, very credible reporting of an imminent attack” at the airport, possibly within “hours”.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country had received information from the US and other countries about the “threat of suicide attacks on the mass of people”.

The acting US ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling”.

A while later, the blast was reported. US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the explosion, the White House says.

Wilson also said there remain “safe ways” for Americans to reach the airport, but “there undoubtedly will be” Afghans who had worked with or for the US in Afghanistan who will not be able to get out before the evacuation ends.

Late Wednesday, the US Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, the UK and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport, with Australia’s foreign minister saying there was a “very high threat of a terrorist attack”.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any attack was imminent in the wake of those warnings.

Earlier Thursday, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere.

More soon…

 

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