Kabul, Dec 31 (ANI): A minibus packed with civilians, including women and children, was blown apart by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province on Thursday, killing 14 passengers and wounding at least four, officials said.
"The minibus was traveling from Sangin to Kandahar City," The New York Times quoted Dawoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor's office, as saying.
"A heavy mine ripped through the bus, resulting in mass civilian casualties, including women and children," he added.Afghan and NATO military officials blamed Taliban insurgents for what a NATO spokesman called a "despicable attack" meant to kill innocents.
"This despicable attack blatantly targeted Afghan civilians. We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the murdered civilians, and we wish for a hasty recovery for all those injured by this attack," Rear Adm. Vic Beck, a NATO spokesman, said in a statement.
Afghan officials said they believed NATO or Afghan government troops, who routinely travel the road, were the intended targets.
"We think probably the Taliban are laying land mines or resorting to roadside bombs to hit Afghan and foreign forces," said Niamatullah Ghafari, a Member of Parliament from the Helmand Province. "But often it rips through civilian vehicles driving the same roads."
However, in a telephone interview, a Taliban spokesman in Helmand denied responsibility for the bombing, instead blaming NATO and Afghan forces for the same.
"They themselves are planting mines and detonating them against civilians in order to provoke civilians against the Taliban," said the spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid.
He offered no proof to support the accusation but reiterated the Taliban's previous assertions that all its fighters had been instructed to avoid civilian casualties.
"We are not detonating bombs on civilian buses, never, ever," he said, adding, "Yes, in a suicide attack there might be some civilian casualties, but not in an attack on the main highway."
It was at least the second time this month that a roadside bomb had killed more than a dozen civilians in Helmand, where American-led NATO forces have intensified their campaign against the Taliban over the past six months, and insurgents have increasingly turned to roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices. (ANI)