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KABUL, Afghanistan — A third bomb blast shook central Kabul Monday night, roughly eight hours after a twin bombing attack at the Defense Ministry left at least 24 dead and 91 injured.

The late night blast, which caused lights to flicker in parts of the Shahr-e-Naw neighborhood, was followed by gunfire in the residential and business area of the Afghan capital where some shops and restaurants were still open. Eyewitnesses reported seeing tracer fire. Others reported smoke rising from that area of the city.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a car bomb was detonated in the area and two attackers then entered a building, but it was not immediately clear whether it was a guest house, where foreigners and diplomats stay in the Afghan capital, or a business.

The lights were out and police special forces were in the area. Seddiqi said they had the situation under control and "there is no gunfire now." He could not give details about casualties.

Back-to-back blasts near the Afghan Defense Ministry earlier in the day killed at least 24 people and wounded 91 officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the earlier attacks.

The first of the twin explosions occurred among a crowd of civilians on the Pul-e Yak Paisagi pedestrian bridge, a busy Kabul River crossing, said Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Mohammad Radmanish. A suicide bomber detonated the second after police, security forces and civilians rushed in to help the victims.

The twin attacks happened in an area near government buildings, a market and a major intersection as government employees were leaving work for the day. Streets were jammed with traffic in nearby areas of the city, but several ambulances raced to the site, eyewitnesses said.

The attacks came at a tense time in the Afghan capital, as the country’s president and chief executive work to hash out their differences ahead of this month’s deadline to enact a set of required changes, part of a power-sharing agreement brokered two years ago by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Failure to implement the reforms could undermine the legitimacy of the national unity government.

Afghan officials are also preparing for a conference next month in Brussels at which foreign donors are expected to pledge continuing support for the beleaguered country for the next few years amid questions about the Afghan security forces’ ability to defeat the insurgency without continued international assistance. Insurgents have targeted the capital repeatedly this year and made broad inroads in some southern provinces, putting Afghan forces on the defensive and in need of additional support from the NATO-led advise-and-assist mission.

President Ashraf Ghani said the insurgents were attempting to spread fear.

"The enemies of Afghanistan have lost their ability to fight the Security and Defense Forces of the country and thus attack highways, cities, mosques, schools and common people," he said, according to his office.

The militants, in a statement posted online, said the second bomb in Monday’s twin afternoon attack was detonated after a large number of ministry officials had gathered. The Taliban claimed to have killed and wounded dozens of high- and low-ranking officers, including the chief of Kabul’s 3rd police district.

Conflicting media reports said the attack killed the head of Kabul’s 2nd police district, the area where the attack occurred.

Afghan officials could not confirm whether a police chief was a casualty of the blasts, but an official said an investigation was underway.

The attacks followed a Kabul police announcement earlier in the day that Afghan officials last week had captured four suicide bombers who were attempting to carry out attacks in Kabul.

Abdul Rahman Rahimi, chief of the 101 Asmayee Police Zone in the Afghan capital said the would-be bombers were affiliated with a Taliban group led by Mullah Dadullah, which is active in Logar province and has previously carried out attacks in Logar and Kabul, Rahimi said.

Louis Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said all embassy officials had been accounted for after the bombings. A spokesman for Resolute Support said the NATO-led train-advise-assist mission had accounted for all its personnel.

U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO mission, expressed condolences for the families of the victims and condemned the attack, which he said "shows the contempt the Taliban have for human life."

"Targeting civilians as well as those who defend their fellow citizens directly contradicts the Taliban’s earlier promise to protect the civilian population and does nothing to advance the cause of peace."

Monday’s attack was one of the deadliest of the two dozen carried out in Kabul this year and came less than two weeks after a complex attack on the American University of Afghanistan that left at least 13 people dead and dozens injured.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the year’s deadliest attack. At least 80 people were killed and more than 230 injured when a suicide bomber targeted a demonstration in July.

A massive truck bombing outside the headquarters of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency in April shattered windows across a swath of the capital and shook doors as far as 2 miles away, and left more than 60 dead and nearly 350 wounded, many of them civilians. The Taliban claimed that attack.

Throughout their anti-government insurgency, now in its 15th year, the Taliban have targeted government officials, security forces and foreigners and claim they try to spare civilians. But Afghan civilians often bear the brunt of attacks.

A United Nations report in July found that a record number of civilians had been killed or wounded in the first six months of 2016 since the agency began counting in 2009. Of the 5,166 civilians killed or wounded as of June 30, nearly one-third were children, according to the report. The total number of civilian casualties recorded since January 2009 was 22,941 killed and 40,993 injured.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

Garland.chad@stripes.com Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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