A suicide car bomb exploded outside the heavily guarded Indian Embassy in downtown Kabul this morning, killing at least 17 and injuring 84, according to Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior.
The large explosion gutted a nearby market, shattered windows and severely damaged two United Nations armored SUVs that were driving by. The vehicles were empty except for drivers, the U.N. said, and they were not injured.
But the car bomb, which Afghan officials said was loaded into a Toyota 4Runner, was large enough to be felt more than a mile away. The deputy speaker of Afghanistan's parliament, who lives down the street, told ABC News that the blast was five times stronger than the one that last hit the Indian Embassy in July 2008, a car bomb that killed nearly 60 people.
Security since that blast has been strengthened around the Indian Embassy, which is in a highly protected part of town, across the street from the Ministry of Interior.
But security in Kabul has deteriorated markedly in the past few months. From January to August, there was only a single major suicide attack in Kabul. Since mid-August, there has been five. This is the first of the five that was not against foreign forces.
In the past two days, security around the city has been stepped up after officials received intelligence that two suicide car bombers had entered the city. And there were unconfirmed reports this morning that the second car bomb may be circulating in town.
In New Delhi, India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters that the Indian Embassy was the target.
"I believe the suicide bomb was directed at the embassy since the suicide bomber came up to the outer perimeter wall of the embassy in a car loaded with explosives," Rao told reporters, according The Associated Press.
Three Indian paramilitary soldiers on guard duty at the embassy's watchtower were wounded by shrapnel, Rao said.