KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A suicide car bomb exploded Thursday at a bank in Afghanistan’s Helmand province as Afghan troops and government workers waited to collect their pay ahead of a major Muslim holiday, killing at least 29 people, officials said.
Most of the casualties in the explosion near the bank in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah were civilians, said provincial Gov. Hayatullah Hayat. At least 60 people were wounded, he said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the Kabul Bank in the southern province, which has been the center of bitter battles between the insurgents and security forces, aided by NATO troops.
The militants, believed to control nearly 80 percent of the province’s countryside, increasingly have been making a push into Lashkar Gah to try take the city.
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Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi said in an email that the bomb targeted Afghan security personnel collecting their salaries. He said no civilians were killed and gave a higher death toll. But the provincial governor and police chief emphasized that most of the dead were civilians. Witnesses said children were among the wounded.
The Taliban recently have overrun Helmand’s key Sangin district, where British and U.S. troops had fought for years to keep them at bay.
The attacker struck as scores of people, including many Afghan soldiers and civil servants, waited outside the bank ahead of the Eid-al-Fitr holiday, which follows the holy month of Ramadan, expected to end this weekend.
Esmatullah, a border policeman who was at the scene of the deafening explosion, said many people were missing in the ensuing chaos as bystanders, survivors and ambulances struggled to get the most seriously wounded to the hospital.
“We are taking children to the hospital,” said Esmatullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
A 12-year-old girl named Hosnia was crying outside…