A massive explosion rocked a highly secure diplomatic area of Kabul on Wednesday morning, killing 80 people and wounding as many as 350, sending a huge plume of smoke over the Afghan capital.

The target of the attack — which officials said was a suicide car bombing — was not immediately known but Ismail Kawasi, spokesperson of the public health ministry, said most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children.

Associated Press images from the scene showed the German Embassy and several other embassies located in the area heavily damaged in the explosion. It wasn’t known if any foreign diplomats were among the casualties.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group have staged large-scale attacks in the Afghan capital in the past.

‘Heinous acts’

A statement from the Ministry of Interior Affairs says it “condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack” that killed so many.

“These heinous acts go against the values of humanity as well values of peaceful Afghans,” the statement added. “These attacks also demonstrate the extreme level of atrocity by terrorists against innocent civilians.”

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Relatives of victims listen to hospital officials after the blast. Hundreds were injured. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

The explosion took place at the peak of Kabul’s rush hour when roads are packed with work-time commuters. It went off close to a busy intersection in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, said Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

The neighbourhood is considered Kabul’s safest area, with foreign embassies protected by dozens of three-metre-high blast walls and government offices, guarded by police and national security forces. The German Embassy, the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Palace are all in the area, as are the British and the Canadian embassies. The Chinese, Turkish and Iranian embassies are also located there.

‘The month of goodness’

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack, which came just days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A statement from his office quoted Ghani as saying that “the terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people.”

Pakistan also condiment the “terrorist attack in Kabul this morning that has caused loss of precious human lives and injuries to many.” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “the blast has caused damage to the residences of some Pakistani diplomats and staff, living in the close vicinity, and inflicted minor injuries to some.”

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Men move an injured man to a hospital after a blast in Kabul on Wednesday. Windows were shattered in shops, restaurants and other buildings up to a kilometre from the blast site. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

The Foreign Ministry in Berlin said it had no immediate information on possible casualties or damage to the German Embassy but was working on trying to get more details from Afghanistan.

The blast was so heavy that more than 50 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged at the site of the attack. “We don’t know at this moment what was the target of the attack,” said Danish.

Damage a kilometre away

Windows were shattered in shops, restaurants and other buildings up to a kilometre from the blast site.

“There are a large number of casualties, but I don’t know how many people are killed or wounded,” said an eyewitness at the site, Gul Rahim.

Afghanistan

An injured man is seen after the attack. U.S. and Afghan forces have been battling the Taliban insurgency for more than 15 years. (Associated Press)

Kawasi said the wounded were admitted to different Kabul hospitals.

Shortly after the explosion, all roads in Wazir Akbar Khan were blocked off by Afghan security forces and helicopters were deployed over the neighbourhood.

Last month, the Afghan Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive, promising to build their political base in the country while focusing military assaults on the international coalition and Afghan security forces.

U.S. and Afghan forces have been battling the Taliban insurgency for more than 15 years. The United States now has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations. In the past year, they have largely concentrated on thwarting a surge of attacks by the Taliban, who have captured key districts, such as Helmand province, which U.S. and British troops had fought bitterly to return to the government.

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