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Satellite images show crowds at Kabul airport before two reported explosions

Crowds converge near Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this satellite image taken on Aug. 24, 2021. (Image credit: ©2021 Maxar Technologies)

Massive crowds converged at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan before two explosions there killed and injured dozens on Thursday (Aug. 26), as shown in recent satellite photos ahead of the suspected terror attacks.

The pictures from Maxar Technologies, taken over several days, show hundreds of people crowding the gates at Hamid Karzai International Airport. A fundamentalist militia called the Taliban took over Kabul and other major Afghan cities earlier in the month. There have been reports of people clinging to planes as the United States and other countries evacuate people from the airport.

At least two explosions — one at the airport's Abbey Gate and a second explosion at the nearby Baron Hotel — were reported on Thursday. CNN reported (opens in new tab) the Abbey Gate explosion at 9:40 a.m. EDT (1340 GMT or 5:40 p.m. local time in Kabul), and Pentagon officials confirmed the second attack at or near the Baron Hotel. United States officials are still trying to confirm the source of the explosions, but they appear to be suicide bombings, U.S. officials told CNN.

Related: Crowds surge on Afghanistan airport in satellite photos

The Pentagon has confirmed at least two deaths from the explosions, The New York Times reported (opens in new tab) around 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), but the investigation is still in its early stages and casualty numbers may change quickly.

The United States has been accelerating evacuations of people in Afghanistan ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline. On Wednesday (Aug. 25), U.S. President Joe Biden said that whether the U.S. meets the deadline would depend on the Taliban continuing to allow people to access the Kabul airport, according to an NBC News report (opens in new tab)

Biden has not yet made a statement on Thursday's events, but the president is receiving regular briefings on the situation and has canceled many of his other scheduled events for the day, according to media reports. 

Both Biden and the Pentagon have been warning that ISIS, a militant group known for clashing with the Taliban, could be a threat to Kabul's airport; meanwhile, CNN has been tracking reports of threats (opens in new tab) from an offshoot group called ISIS-K. 

The circumstances in Afghanistan have been unfolding just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The Sept. 11, 2001 events are widely interpreted as the chief cause of the American military offensive in Afghanistan in the early 2000s.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.