KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Three suicide attackers blew themselves up in the largest city in southern Afghanistan Wednesday, leaving 22 people dead at least 50 others injured in a dusty marketplace that was turned into a gruesome scene of blood and bodies, authorities said.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack in Kandahar, the capital of Kandahar province and the spiritual birthplace of the insurgency.
In the past two years, tens of thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops have flooded Taliban strongholds in the south, and have largely succeeded in boosting security there. But the Taliban have proven resilient, continuing to conduct suicide attacks and targeted assassinations of pro-government figures, opening up new fronts in the north and west and stepping up attacks in the east.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack on innocent civilians, saying it proved the "enemy is getting weaker because they are killing innocent people."
The explosion occurred about five kilometers (three miles) from the main gate of the massive military installation run by the U.S.-led coalition and roughly 500 meters (yards) from an Afghan military base.
One suicide bomber detonated a three-wheeled motorbike filled with explosives first, said Rahmatullah Atrafi, deputy police chief in Kandahar province. Then, as people rushed to assist the casualties, two other suicide bombers on foot walked up to the site and blew themselves up, he said.
Eight private security guards were among the 22 killed along a main road on the east side of the city, he said.
Small shops and private security company offices line one side of the road. Large trucks that supply logistics to Kandahar Air Field regularly park along the other side.
The explosions left a bloody scene of body parts, shoes, soda cans, snacks and debris from three shops that were destroyed.
Mohammad Naeem, a 30-year-old shopkeeper, said he was selling soft drinks to a customer when the first blast occurred.
"I dropped to the ground," he said. "When I got up, I looked outside and I heard people shouting for help."
Naeem said he helped his customer, who was wounded, into his shop.
"He was bleeding. I put cloth on his wound to stop the bleeding," he said. "I was busy with that when the other blasts occurred."
Islam Zada, a truck driver, was on the other side of the road having tea near his parked truck when the attack began.
"I couldn't see anything except for fire and dust," Zada said of the scene. "I found a wounded truck driver on our side of the road and went to help him," Zada said. "We gave him some water and when we were talking to him the other blasts occurred."
The number of Afghan civilians killed dropped 36 percent in the first four months of the year compared with last year, according to the latest figures compiled by the U.N. While the trend is promising, the U.N. laments that too many civilians are being caught up in the violence as insurgents fight Afghan and foreign forces.
The U.N. said last month that 579 civilians were killed in the first four months — down from 898 killed in the same period of 2011.
Anti-government forces caused 79 percent of civilian casualties and Afghan and foreign forces 9 percent, according to the U.N. It was not clear who was responsible for the remaining 12 percent.
Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann in Kabul contributed to this report.