KABUL, (AP) – Afghan police arrested five would-be suicide bombers in Kabul on Thursday, the largest suicide team ever apprehended in the capital, officials said.
“If this team had made it through it would have been a disaster as we’ve seen in past instances,” said Abdul Ghafar, deputy commander of the Afghan National Police crisis unit.
He said police, acting on intelligence, stopped the suicide bombers as they were traveling in an SUV in the southeastern part of the city. He said the bomb team had been sent by the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.
“Today’s operation marks a big success,” Ghafar said. “Our capacities are improving day by day and also our ability to uncover such plots is improving day by day.”
Such attacks are a hallmark of the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction whose leader was once a U.S. ally. The group is considered a serious threat to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan’s east and operates on both sides of the border with Pakistan.
Ghafar said the nationalities and exact identities of the five men had yet to be determined. He said their targets were crowded parts of downtown Kabul where they could cause the most carnage, but gave no specifics.
The five were displayed before journalists at a heavily guarded police base on the city’s outskirts, along with their vehicle and bags containing explosive material and suicide harnesses.
All appeared to be young men and wore traditional Afghan tunics and trousers. They stood with their backs to the journalists, their eyes covered by blindfolds and hoods and their wrists in handcuffs, before being led off by police for further questioning.
Ghafar said police are getting better at foiling such plots through a combination of improved intelligence and better training.
“I would call this a major blow to the terrorists,” he said.
Despite Thursday’s success, a number of suicide bombers have made it into the capital in recent months, including a team that targeted government buildings in Jan. 18, leaving 12 dead, and a car bomber who struck near a hotel frequented by Westerners on Dec. 15, killing eight people.
In the worst such attack, a suicide car bomb detonated at the gates of the Indian Embassy on July 7, 2008, killing more than 60 people.