A Taliban spokesman denied any responsibility Wednesday for a major bombing that killed dozens of people in southern Afghanistan's largest city, saying that the militant group condemns the attack.
The blast ripped through a central area of Kandahar city just after nightfall, killing at least 43 people and wounding 65, according to the Interior Ministry. The explosion, one of the largest since the Taliban were expelled from the country in 2001, sent flames shooting into the sky and destroyed about 40 shops, including restaurants and bakeries.
Rescue workers were still pulling out injured people on Wednesday.
"There are some people still trapped in the buildings and we are trying to get them out," Mohammad Darwish, one of the rescue workers.
The thundering blast occurred in a district that includes U.N. facilities and an Afghan intelligence office.
"There was big smoke in the sky, and there were many dead bodies," said Mohammad Ismail, a vegetable seller being treated at the hospital for leg and hand injuries from the blast. "Some of the wounded were crying out."
Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban and the city was hit by rockets on the morning of election day as Taliban militants made good on threats to try to disrupt last Thursday's polling with violence.
However, the group said it had no involvement in the most recent attack.
"We are denying responsibility, and condemn this attack in which innocent civilians were killed," Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi wrote in a text message sent to an Associated Press reporter.
The Interior Ministry said the blast was from remote-controlled explosives planted in a truck. Local officials have said a cluster of vehicle bombs detonated nearly simultaneously near a Japanese construction firm that is involved in reconstruction efforts in the southern Afghan city. The company recently took over a contract to build a road that insurgents had stalled for several months.
'They've killed children, women'
An intelligence office is about a quarter mile from the attack site and a U.N. office is located about a half mile away.
"The staff is good, everybody is safe," said Samad Khaydarov, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. "Our office, our guesthouses, are safe. ... Unfortunately, security is not so good in Kandahar."
"Once again they've killed children, women, innocent Afghans. They are not human. They are animals. You can see for yourself the destruction of this enemy," said deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Sher Shah.
In other violence, a bomb blast killed four U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, said military spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker. No other information was released pending the notification of family members.
The deaths bring to 41 the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this month, the second deadliest month in the country since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Last month a record 44 U.S. troops died.
This year has been the deadliest of the war for U.S. troops. Including the latest deaths, at least 172 American forces have died in the Afghan war this year, according to an Associated Press count.
A British soldier also died Tuesday after being wounded in an explosion Aug. 15 while on patrol near Sangin in Helmand Province, Britain's Ministry of Defense said.
The number of overall NATO deaths this year is a record as well: at least 292. Last year 286 died, according to the AP count.
The U.S. has more than 60,000 troops in the country.
The violence came as Afghans heard the first fragmented returns of the presidential vote, putting President Hamid Karzai and his main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, virtually even. The figures, from 10 percent of more than 27,000 polling stations nationwide, raised the possibility of a runoff that could drag the process out for months.
Meanwhile, a provincial official was killed in northern Afghanistan Wednesday by a bomb planted in his car, authorities said.
Sayed Jahangir, the justice ministry director for Kunduz province was driving to work in the provincial capital when his vehicle exploded, said Ahmad Sami Yawar, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Yawar said he did not know why Jahangir would have been targeted, other than his role as a government official.