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A member of Afghan security forces stands guard following Saturday's suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. U.S. President Donald Trump is condemning "the despicable car bombing attack" in the Afghan capital of Kabul. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Afghanistan says death toll from Kabul bombing rises to 103

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By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan authorities have raised the death toll from Saturday's suicide bombing in Kabul to 103, as hundreds of people gathered for funerals or awaited word of loved ones outside hospitals and morgues.

The attacker, driving an ambulance filled with explosives, was able to race through a security checkpoint by saying he was transferring a patient to a hospital. The explosion damaged or destroyed dozens of shops and vehicles in the heart of the city, near government buildings.

Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak provided the updated death toll on Sunday, saying another 235 people were wounded in the attack. He said police were among those killed and wounded.

He said the attackers drove two ambulances, both of which made it past the checkpoint before one of them turned around and left the area, indicating some of the attackers escaped.

The Taliban claimed the attack, which dealt a major blow to the U.S.-backed Afghan government. Afghan security forces have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.

Saturday's bombing took place in the heavily-guarded city center, near a number of foreign embassies and the office of the High Peace Council, which is charged with promoting peace efforts with the Taliban and other groups. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, also has offices in the area.

Ahmad Fahim, a shopkeeper who survived Saturday's attack, said several fellow merchants were wounded or killed. He said he had seen many victims who lost arms or legs in the blast.

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The government declared a day of mourning, with shops closed and flags at half-staff.

Officials at the Public Health Ministry said the forensic medicine department is still trying to identify a number of bodies before releasing them to families.

The powerful explosion could be felt across the city and left the surrounding area blanketed in dust and smoke. It came a week after Taliban militants stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul, killing 22 people, including 14 foreigners, and setting off a 13-hour battle with security forces.

Masoom Stanekzai, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, said five suspects have been arrested for their involvement in the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel and that another had fled the country. He said four people have been arrested in connection with Saturday's attack.

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