Blasts at Afghan gas stor­age fa­cil­ity kill 11, mostly in refugee set­tle­ment


At least 11 peo­ple, most of them chil­dren, were killed in a se­ries of ex­plo­sions at an Afghan gas stor­age fa­cil­ity, which trig­gered a mas­sive inferno in a nearby set­tle­ment for dis­placed peo­ple, of­fi­cials said Tues­day.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether the blasts late Mon­day on the edge of the rel­a­tively peace­ful western city of Herat were the re­sult of an ac­ci­dent or caused by a mil­i­tant at­tack.

“Around mid­night ( Mon­day) a gas tanker ex­ploded which trig­gered blasts in a gas stor­age plant, killing 11 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 10 oth­ers,” Herat po­lice spokesman Ab­dul Rauf Ah­madi told AFP.

The ex­plo­sions trig­gered a plume of flames into the night sky, which rapidly spread to a nearby set­tle­ment of mud houses for in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple where most of the deaths oc­curred.

Ihasan­ul­lah Hayat, spokesman for the gover­nor of Herat, con­firmed the toll and said the ma­jor­ity of those killed were chil­dren.

A res­i­dent of the hill­side set­tle­ment, who lost a 9-year-old daugh­ter in the fire, said many of the vic­tims were try­ing to flee the tow­er­ing flames.

“The ex­plo­sions were pow­er­ful and sparked a huge fire,” said the man, who had sought refuge in Herat af­ter flee­ing the neigh­bor­ing restive province of Badghis.

“Af­ter the first ex­plo­sion ev­ery­one started to flee the area and got caught up in the flames,” he added, re­luc­tant to give his name.

Mourn­ers gath­ered at the set­tle­ment for fu­neral prayers on Tues­day morn­ing, with tur­baned pall bear­ers seen car­ry­ing bod­ies for burial on makeshift stretch­ers.

Do­mes­tic gas cylin­der ex­plo­sions are an al­most daily oc­cur­rence around the coun­try, where safety stan­dards are poor and fa­tal ac­ci­dents not un­com­mon.

Grow­ing In­se­cu­rity

Herat province, a key busi­ness hub lo­cated in western Afghanistan near the bor­der with Iran, is a rel­a­tively peace­ful province in a coun­try con­vulsed by an as­cen­dant 14-year Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

But in May last year four in­sur­gent gun­men launched a pre- dawn at­tack on In­dia’s con­sulate in Herat be­fore be­ing re­pelled by se­cu­rity forces, in an as­sault high­light­ing the pre­car­i­ous se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try.

And at least four Afghans were killed in Septem­ber 2013 in a Tal­iban sui­cide at­tack on the U.S. con­sulate in the city.

The Tal­iban are step­ping up their sum­mer of­fen­sive, launched in late April, amid a bit­ter lead­er­ship dis­pute fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of the death of long­time leader Mul­lah Omar.

At least 12 peo­ple in­clud­ing three U. S. civil­ian con­trac­tors were killed Satur­day when a sui­cide car bomber struck a NATO con­voy in Kabul, fol­low­ing a wave of fa­tal bomb­ings ear­lier this month that rat­tled the city.

Mul­lah Akhtar Man­sour, Omar’s long­time trusted deputy, was named as the new Tal­iban chief in late July in an ac­ri­mo­nious power tran­si­tion.

Al-Qaida chief Ay­man al-Zawahiri re­cently pledged his group’s al­le­giance to Man­sour, in a move which could bol­ster his ac­ces­sion amid the grow­ing in­fight­ing within the Afghan mil­i­tant move­ment.

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