Suicide bombing reported near Russian Embassy in Kabul - The Washington Post

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RIGA, Latvia — A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the consular section of Russia's embassy in Kabul on Monday, killing a top diplomat, a Russian security guard and four Afghans, according to Russian and Afghan officials.

Afghan police reported that Taliban guards at the embassy shot dead the attacker, but his device still detonated. The blast happened as the embassy's second secretary exited the building to read out names to a crowd waiting to hear about visas, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The attack against one of the few countries that has maintained an embassy under the Taliban is a blow to the image of the group that took over Afghanistan a year ago and maintains it has control over the country.

A statement by Alexander Bastrykin of the Investigative Committee of Russia said a criminal case has been opened in cooperation with Afghan law enforcement agencies into the death of the embassy's second secretary and the guard. Russian media has identified the diplomat as Mikhail Shakh.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was visiting neighboring Tajikistan, called it a "terrorist act" and said that security at the embassy has been tightened. He held a moment of silence for the slain staff and said the Taliban's intelligence service was investigating. "Let's hope that the organizers and perpetrators of this terrorist act will suffer their deserved punishment in the very near future," Lavrov said.

Khalid Zadran, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said the embassy guards stopped the attacker before he reached the gates of the mission itself.

"An explosion took place when the security forces shot the suicide bomber before reaching to the crowd outside the Russian Embassy," he said in a tweet. He later confirmed that four Afghans had been killed in addition to the Russians.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi condemned the attack and confirmed the death of the two embassy staff members. He emphasized the country's close relations with Russia and said we "will not allow the enemies to sabotage relations between both countries with such negative actions."

While the Taliban takeover a year ago meant a drastic decrease in fighting, there has still been a string of bombings across the country, widely attributed to the rival radical Islamic State group.

Past attacks by the organization have been against mosques and Taliban members, but this would be the first time that a diplomatic mission has been targeted. The discovery in August that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was living in the heart of Kabul under the Taliban's nose also belied its promises to stop radical groups from operating in the country.

Russia is one of a handful of nations that has maintained diplomatic ties with the Taliban after the group took power in August 2021, following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, the Kremlin has not moved to recognize the Taliban government, and the group is classified as a banned terrorist organization in Russia. Other nations that maintained diplomatic ties include China, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Russia has hosted Taliban delegations since the group took Kabul, notably at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Russia's equivalent of Davos, in June. In October, Russia hosted a senior Taliban delegation in Moscow for talks about Afghanistan's future, attended by representatives of China, Pakistan and other countries. There was also a Taliban trade delegation in Moscow in August.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in July that the Taliban had guaranteed the security of foreign embassies in Kabul, as well as promising not to threaten Central Asian nations.

Russia's Foreign Ministry accredited a diplomatic representative for the Taliban in Russia in February. In March, Russia took part in a conference with six nations neighboring Afghanistan, held in China. The nations, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, called on the Taliban to take "more visible measures" to distance itself from terrorist groups and "to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer become a terrorist organization breeding ground."

Moscow says the United States is primarily to blame for Afghanistan's worsening collapse and has condemned the U.S. freezing of $3.5 billion in Afghanistan Central Bank funds.

Khan reported from Karachi, Pakistan, and Timsit from London.

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