A suicide bomber has killed at least 10 people, nine of them foreigners, in an early-morning attack on a highway leading to the international airport in the Afghan capital, officials say.

Kabul police chief General Mohammad Ayub Salangi said the large explosion took place early on Tuesday on an avenue northwest of the city centre near Kabul International Airport.

The attack took place on the eight-lane highway sometime after 6.30am (1200 EST).

The blast, which went off in front a gas station, was so powerful it hurled the minibus at least 50 metres.

Salangi told AFP it was a suicide attack next to a minivan carrying foreigners.

An AFP photographer saw at least six bodies lying among the wreckage of a gutted minivan, and another vehicle destroyed by flames still burning in the middle of the highway, with debris flung all around.

An AP reporter at the scene of the blast saw at least six bodies next to the destroyed minibus.

Media claim the men worked for an international courier company.

An Afghan and a Western security official confirmed that nine foreigners were killed in the attack, which police confirmed was a suicide car bomb.

“The foreigners were from a private company working at the airport,” the Afghan official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said an Afghan was also among the dead, and two Afghan policemen were wounded.

The Western official said two Afghans were killed, putting the overall toll at 11.

A spokesman for NATO’s US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed an explosion near the airport, but said there was no current report of casualties among its personnel.

Witnesses said there was smoke spewing into the sky and a heavy police deployment at the scene of the attack, contributing to a major traffic snarl-up on the busy road.

An eyewitness at the scene said he was waiting for a bus to go to work at 6.45am when he saw a small white sedan ram into the minibus.

“The explosion was so powerful and loud that I could not hear anything for 10 minutes,” said Abdullah Shah, a teacher waiting at a bus stop.

“It was early and there wasn’t much traffic or there would have been many dead.”

Reuters reported a jihadist group Hezb-e-Islami had claimed responsibility for the attack, in reprisal for an anti-Islam film that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.

The Taliban has threatened to increase their attacks against foreign targets to avenge the film.

It came one day after hundreds of Afghans burned cars and threw rocks at a US military base in the capital as a demonstration against the film turned violent. One police vehicle was burned by the mob before they finally dispersed around midday on Monday.

Tuesday’s attack also comes after a devastating few days for NATO in which six of its soldiers were shot dead by suspected Afgan police, the Taliban destroyed six US fighter jets in an unprecedented assault on a major base in the south and one of its air strikes killed eight Afghan women.