SUICIDE bombers struck at the heart of middle-class Kabul yesterday, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens near the home of a former vice-president and a hotel popular with Westerners.
The blast occurred metres from the Heetal hotel in the diplomatic district of Wazir Akbar Khan and just hours before President Hamid Karzai was to open an anti-corruption conference.
More than 200 delegates, including foreign officials, were gathered at the nearby Foreign Ministry for the three-day meeting, which is a response to demands from Western allies for greater accountability and transparency in Afghanistan's central administration.
But officials yesterday said they believed the target of the attack was former vice-president Ahmed Zia Massoud, brother of anti-Taliban hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by al-Qa'ida two days before the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.
The latest blast comes as the US prepares to deploy the first of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to boost the Western allied offensive against Islamic insurgents there.
Shortly after the attack, Mr Karzai told the conference the explosion had badly damaged Massoud's house and killed two of his guards.
Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi confirmed the strike killed four men and four women and wounded at least 40.
An Afghan intelligence official in charge of security for the hotel said no guests were injured and the hotel suffered only minor damage, although windows in nearby buildings were shattered.
The Heetal hotel is owned by the son of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was deposed by the Taliban in 1996.
An English student at Kabul University who witnessed the blast said he saw a black four-wheeled drive vehicle near the hotel. "It drove very slowly to the checkpoint" of the hotel, and then it blew up," Hamayun Azizi, 22, said.
The bombing has ended a relatively quiet few weeks in the capital, which suffered rolling rocket strikes and suicide blasts following the August presidential polls. The last major attack was almost one month ago on the US-run Camp Phoenix military base on the outskirts of the city.