KABUL (AFP) - A massive explosion in a shop selling gunpowder and dynamite tore through an historic part of the Afghan capital early Wednesday, flattening shops and killing six people, police said.
The blast, in a bazaar across the Kabul River from President Hamid Karzai's palace, was heard across the city and sent a huge column of dust into the air, shattering windows up to a couple of kilometres (miles) away.
With the city wary of attacks by Taliban and other militants behind several suicide bombings last year, initial reports and an intelligence official said the blast was from a bomb.
But police said it was caused by gunpowder and dynamite stored in one of the mudbrick shops in Kabul's Old City that sold items for hunting. It was not immediately clear what sparked off the ammunition.
Witnesses said the owner of the shop where the explosion occurred had been arrested several times for selling explosives to people involved in illegal mining. He was believed to be among the dead.
"It seems that a big amount of gunpowder and some dynamite, which people use for illegal mining, were stored here," said a police colonel, who did not want to be identified.
"Four people have been martyred and nine others are wounded," district police commander Abdul Rahman Rahimi told AFP. Later two more bodies were pulled from the rubble, he said.
"Lots of shops and some houses have been destroyed or damaged due to the strong waves of the explosion," he said.
The blast left a three-metre (10-foot) crater in the ground. Broken shotguns, airguns and bullets were scattered in the debris of bricks, wood, blankets, waterpipes and cables.
"We heard a huge explosion from one of the shops," said Ahmad Fahim, who runs a bakery in the area, soon after the blast. "There were people in most of the shops. There are still bodies underneath the rubble."
Desperate people searched through the rubble for friends and relatives as men used ropes to lift out cars mangled in the blast. "He's alive, he's alive," the crowd shouted at one point when they saw an unconscious man trapped under the debris.
Kabul, still scarred by the 1992-1994 civil war in which rockets rained into the city from its several hills, remains awash with weapons and ammunition, although only material used in hunting can be sold legally.
The city was last year rocked by a series of explosions, including several suicide bombings, but has not seen any attacks this year.
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