- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

JALALABAD, Afghanistan A thunderous explosion at a construction company rocked Jalalabad yesterday, devastating the surrounding neighborhood and knocking out power in this eastern city. As many as 25 persons were reported killed and 90 injured.

Military officers blamed terrorists. The province's deputy governor said it may have been an accidental detonation of stored explosives. The cause is under investigation.

The 12:30 p.m. blast in the western section of Jalalabad, 70 miles east of Kabul, the Afghan capital, occurred at a maintenance facility of the Afghan Construction and Logistics Unit. It was founded as a nongovernmental service organization but now is a private business.

The Jalalabad police department's chief, Haji Ajib Shah, and its military commander, Hazrat Ali, said initially about a dozen people were killed.

But Mr. Ali said the death toll from what he called a "tremendous explosion" would probably rise as seriously injured victims died in the hospital.

Yesterday evening, government television said the toll stood at 25 dead.

The blast destroyed 50 homes and damaged 500 others, some as far as 500 yards away, said Mohammed Sultan, military commander for the district. A hole 20 yards across was gouged in the ground, and the remains of the construction company building burned for hours.

The explosion occurred a few hundred yards from the Doronta dam and damaged its hydroelectric system, knocking out power to the city.

Mr. Sultan, at the scene, said he believed an explosives-laden car was detonated in a basement garage of the building, and he blamed "al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the enemies of Afghanistan."

Another army officer at the scene, Maj. Abdul Qayoom Azimi, said he believed terrorists had assembled explosives in the building over time, and then either deliberately or accidentally set them off.

Maj. Azimi said authorities had received information there would be an attempt to sabotage the dam and consequently had put extra security there.

Earlier, the deputy governor of Jalalabad's Nangarhar province, Mohammed Assef Qazi Zada, said explosives were stored at the site and the blast may have been an accident, the Afghan Islamic Press agency reported.

The company builds roads, among other projects.

At Nangarhar hospital, Aziza, an injured 10-year-old girl from the neighborhood, told a reporter: "I just heard a very big noise. After that, I didn't know what happened to me or where I was."

The hospital's deputy director, Dr. Gulojan Wadat Shinwari, said 90 patients were received and 54 admitted, including four staff members of the construction company.

Mr. Ali, the regional military commander, said three company staff members, including the firm's second-ranking officer, were questioned about the blast.

The construction company was founded as a nongovernmental organization with U.S. funding to carry out public-works projects, but American support was withdrawn a decade ago. It has since continued operations as a private company fulfilling contracts from international organizations.

The fear of terrorism by resurgent Taliban or al Qaeda members runs high in Nangarhar province. Much of the rest of Afghanistan also is fearful eight months after a U.S.-led military campaign brought down the Taliban government and crippled its allies of the al Qaeda terror network.

A series of incidents have put Afghan security forces on alert, including the unsolved assassination of the longtime governor of Nangarhar, Abdul Qadir.

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