KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 18, 2012 -- In one of the most deadly insurgent attacks here this year, a suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives on a main thoroughfare leading to Kabul's airport, killing at least 13 people.
Most of the victims were South Africans, packed into a minivan on their way to work at the airport. The suicide bomber rammed into the minivan, creating a huge explosion whose shockwaves were felt in many parts of the city, according to eyewitnesses.
"The explosion was so powerful and loud that I could not hear anything for 10 minutes," Abdullah Shah, a teacher who witnessed the attack, told The Associated Press.
A number of innocent bystanders were also hurt in the blast. The blast was so strong it sent the minivan flying at least 160 feet from its original location, according to police officials.
A militant group called Hezb-i-Islami (Party of Islam) claimed responsibility for the blast, calling it revenge for the offensive anti-Islam movie produced in the United States by a group of individuals with checkered pasts. The movie has set off a wave of deadly riots in many parts of the Muslim world, including Afghanistan, where hundreds of protesters have thrown rocks at police and set vehicles on fire.
Hezb-i-Islami, one of many insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan, says a 22-year-old female named Fatima carried out the attack. If true, it would be the first time ever that a female suicide bomber has driven a car bomb for an attack in Kabul.
Female suicide bombers are rare in Afghanistan, and female drivers are almost unheard of. Afghanistan's Interior Ministry is conducting tests to determine whether the driver was a woman.
Hezb-i-Islami itself is run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a 65-year-old warlord, former prime minister and longtime U.S. ally who is now on the U.S. State Department's terror list. The group is believed to have thousands of loyalists throughout the country, particularly among Tajiks and Uzbeks, longtime ethnic rivals of Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun tribes.
Until recently, efforts had been made to draw the group into the peace process, including personal appears from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
Today's attack comes at a time when anti-American fervor is on the rise.
The Taliban staged one of the most successful assaults ever Friday against a coalition base. Fifteen heavily armed fighters stormed into Camp Bastion, the joint U.S.-British base where Britain's Prince Harry is deployed. The fighters killed two U.S. Marines and destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of U.S. aircraft, before all but one of them was killed in return gunfire. The sole surviving insurgent is reportedly clinging to life in a coalition hospital.
Days later, sporadic protests erupted in parts of the city in response to the controversial video. Anti-riot police were called in to keep the angry crowd of hundreds away from U.S. bases and the city's diplomatic areas. Although the crowds eventually subsided, as many as 40 anti-riot police were hurt during the exchange.
NATO admitted Sunday an airstrike in eastern Laghman Province, an area believed to be rife with Taliban sympathizers, led to Afghan civilian casualties.
As many as 20 Afghans were killed, including women and children, according to some reports.
NATO has since apologized and appointed a joint NATO-Afghan task force to examine why the civilians were targeted.