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Nearly 100 Killed In Afghanistan Ambulance Blast

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

At least 95 people are dead and 158 wounded in Kabul, Afghanistan, today after a suicide bomber drove an ambulance loaded with explosives past a security checkpoint. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. We're joined now by Andrew Quilty, a freelance photojournalist who's in Kabul. Mr. Quilty, thanks for being with us.

ANDREW QUILTY: Pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And I gather you were in a carpet shop a few hundred feet down the street when this happened. What can you tell us?

QUILTY: Yeah, that's right. It's a street named Chicken Street. And it's well known as being a popular place for foreigners to go. At least it was a couple of years ago before the majority of them left the country or were barricaded behind security cordons. And so it's very heavily populated by store owners and shopkeepers and so on. And it was in the middle of the day and was shoulder to shoulder with - you know, even to walk down, it was - you would have to sort of negotiate your way past people. So it was very crowded in the area.

SIMON: Yeah. I know Chicken Street. But tell us what you saw at the site of the bombing.

QUILTY: When I heard it, I came out from the store, and I immediately saw people running from the direction of (unintelligible) the smoke billowing into the air. So I walked in the opposite direction towards the smoke. And the closer I got, the more damage there was - obviously, broken windows further away from it - and then closer to it, you know, cars on fire and completely crushed by the force of the explosion.

And then at the ground zero of the site, you know, a number of bodies that was in the immediate vicinity - I saw probably 12 to 15, all, you know, really just mangled and - you know, almost as if they were melted together. It was just a pile of bodies - you know, most of them dead, some of them still alive. I even told one man who was trying to make a phone call, you know, in this morass of bodies.

And then all around, there was, you know, the usual chaos that infuse these attacks - security forces running around with their weapons drawn, general chaos, smoke and noise, car alarms, and, you know, small explosions of oxygen tanks and petrol tanks exploding. And, you know, within a few minutes, you have these - I guess you'd call them first responders - rushing in to take the injured and the dead away.

There happened to be a hospital very close to the site of the attack, which is presumably how the ambulance laden with the explosives was able to gain access to the area. And so a lot of the worst affected were taken on foot to this hospital. They quickly became overwhelmed, and ambulances had to transfer the wounded from there to other nearby hospitals.

SIMON: And I guess we should note - we just got half a minute left, Mr. Quilty - of course, just days ago at the Intercontinental Hotel, where 22 people died, conditions in Kabul seemed to be quite unsafe and perilous at the moment, even more than usual, don't they?

QUILTY: Yeah, it seems like that. I mean, it ebbs and flows, the security situation here. But certainly, the past week has been a particularly bad one. And, of course, as is often the case, it's been the civilians in Kabul who have borne the brunt of it, despite what the targets may or may not have been.

SIMON: Andrew Quilty in Kabul, thanks so much.

QUILTY: Pleasure, Scott. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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