Large clouds of black smoke filled the sky this morning after a suicide blast ripped apart several buildings and cars in the usually quiet neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan. The explosion in the diplomatic area of Kabul, a section of the city full of embassies and non-governmental organizations, killed eight and injured at least 40 people.
The blast is believed to have targeted the home of Ahmed Zia Masoud, the first vice president of Afghanistan, who left office just a few weeks ago. The explosion occurred outside the security gates of the Heetal Hotel, which is frequented by westerners, and across the street from the former police chief of Kabul.
The Ministry of Interior confirmed that eight civilians were killed in the blast, four women and four men. Among the dead were Masoud's secretary and bodyguard, two nieces of the former police chief, one of the guards at the Heetal Hotel, and one foreigner, an Indian.
President Hamid Karzai, who strongly condemned the attack, has ordered officials to find those responsible. "This terrorist attack, which killed and wounded innocent civilians, was an attack on humanity and Islam," Karzai said.
Three homes, including the former vice president's, were severely damaged and windows in nearby buildings were shattered. A large cloud of dark gray smoke rose from the area as firefighters worked to extinguish flames.
Masoud himself was home, but is not severely injured. Just a few feet away, the rooms of the Heetal Hotel -- owned by Masoud's in-laws -- were littered with glass. Almost all the hotel's windows were destroyed by the force of the blast.
The hotel is full of foreigners, and they could be seen wheeling out their luggage this afternoon, heading to other guest houses and hotels.
A witness at the scene, a 22-year-old English student at Kabul University, reported seeing a black, four-wheel drive vehicle near the hotel.
"It drove very slowly to the checkpoint," said Hamayun Azizi. "And then it blew up."
The explosion flipped the vehicle, which landed upside down about 10 yards from the blast site. It was heard a few miles away by about 200 people gathered at the Foreign Ministry for a three-day conference on corruption in the Afghan government. Those at the conference paused for a moment after the blast. After a delay, the event began with Karzai's speech.
Separately, a U.S. service member was killed in a bomb strike in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, NATO forces said in a statement. The military coalition did not provide further details.
NATO also said its forces killed four militants Monday in an attack on men seen placing a bomb in southern Kandahar province.
In the eastern province of Paktia, five Afghans and a Nepalese national were killed in an explosion, said Gen. Azizdin Wardak, provincial police chief. No other details were available.
The suicide attack is believed to be the first in a neighborhood long considered one of the most secure spots in the city.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
This afternoon a crane picked up the blackened, charred SUV used in the suicide attack and took it away. Construction workers and clean-up crews picked through the wreckage of two homes and a handful of cars destroyed in the blast.
Dozens of people milled about as the sun set, walking through a neighborhood that used to be one of the safest places in Kabul.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.