The medical trainees were just settling in for lunch when the bomber struck.
The suicide attack Saturday at a well-guarded Afghan military hospital complex in the center of the capital killed at least six people, injured about two dozen others and revived persistent fears about insurgents’ ability to infiltrate sensitive government and military installations.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The thunderous blast, which echoed across much of the city, marked the first major assault inside Kabul since the insurgents announced the start of their “spring offensive” at the beginning of May.
The midday explosion, on the first day of the Afghan work week, took place in a part of the sprawling 400-bed hospital compound mainly devoted to medical training, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi told reporters.
The hospital complex is overcrowded, and some work areas and trainee accommodations are housed in tents, according to Afghan military officials. The attacker struck a tent that was being used as a dining hall.
The complex remained under lockdown while security personnel searched for a second suicide bomber, but none was found. Emergency vehicles, sirens wailing, rushed to the scene, and police and soldiers blocked off nearby streets.
As word of the attack spread, frantic relatives of patients and workers clustered outside, denied entry by security forces guarding the hospital compound.
“My brother is an army officer and works inside,” said Ahmad Shah, a shopkeeper. “I’ve been calling and calling his cellphone, but it’s not answering, and they won’t let me in. What kind of government is this, that can’t even protect itself?”
The attack was the latest in a series of Taliban strikes against military bases and government compounds. Last month, a bomber made his way into the Defense Ministry, killing two people. Another attacker killed Kandahar’s provincial police chief in his office compound.
Afghan insurgent groups have declared their determination to keep fighting in the wake of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s death, despite reports that the Taliban movement’s senior leaders are weighing renewed peace overtures from the West and from the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.