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Hospital bomb in Afghanistan may have been intended for governor's office Add to ...

The truck bomb that exploded at the entrance to a maternity hospital in a remote corner of Afghanistan may have been intended for the district governor's office and police station next door, officials in the eastern province of Logar say.

"Personally I think the attacker made a mistake," Abdul Hakim Sulemankhel, the head of the provincial council, said in a telephone interview. "I think he mistakenly thought it was the governor's office."

None of the insurgent groups that regularly operate in the mountainous region bordering Pakistan have claimed responsibility for the bombing, leaving stunned local officials trying to puzzle out why a hospital would have been targeted.

In another incident on Sunday, an eight-year-old girl in the southern province of Uruzgan was killed when a bomb she was carrying exploded. The Afghan Ministry of Interior, in a statement, said insurgents gave the child the explosive and then detonated it by remote control as she approached a police checkpoint.

The hospital attack on Saturday morning in the town of Azra left at least 25 people dead, among them children, pregnant women, medical workers and one entire family of seven. The hospital, crowded with people who had come from isolated hamlets in the area for prenatal and obstetrics care, was reduced to rubble.

Conflicting reports on the number of dead continued to circulate a day after the explosion, with some putting the toll at 38 or higher. In either case, it was the deadliest attack by insurgents on Afghan civilians in four months.

In February, 46 people were killed when seven heavily armed men wearing suicide vests burst into a bank in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. As a gun battle with police raged around the building, security cameras recorded the horror inside as one of the attackers calmly shot cowering bank customers at near point-blank range.

The Taliban, saying the people in the bank were government workers, took responsibility for the bank attack. But the group's spokesman said the explosion at the Azra hospital was not the work of its fighters.

While the Taliban has said its fighters are under instructions to avoid civilian casualties, the denial was met with some skepticism.

"If they claim responsibility, all the people of Afghanistan will damn them," said Mohammed Qalamuddin, a former Taliban minister from Logar province who now works for the Afghan government as a teacher. "So whatever group did this will never say so."

According to the United Nations, 82 per cent of the people killed in Afghanistan last month, the deadliest in the decade-long war, were the victims of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

In Azra, police said, a sport utility vehicle with just the driver inside rammed past a guard into a courtyard in front of the hospital. It exploded in a fireball as patients and their families milled about at the entrance, waiting for their appointments.

The entrance to the district governor's office and police headquarters is about 100 metres from the hospital's entrance, and the two compounds are separated only by a wall.

Azra district, with a population estimated by the Afghan government of 15,000, abuts an area of Pakistan that is a staging ground for a mix of insurgent groups that include the Taliban and also the Haqqani network.

It has just 110 policemen and 14 intelligence service officers but no Afghan army base, according to the acting district governor, Afta Gul. "We don't have a lot of security people, so there are not a lot of checkpoints where a suspicious vehicle could have been stopped," he said.

The proximity of Pakistan - the border is 45 kilometres away - makes it a transit point for Taliban fighters. "People say the Taliban who are here come from outside," Mr. Gul said. "Sometimes they come with weapons and order our people to give them food and let them spend the night in their houses. They let them because they're frightened."

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