Taliban militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons stormed a courthouse in northern Afghanistan Thursday, killing at least eight people and wounding another 60 in a fierce firefight with security forces.
Afghan authorities said they regained control of the court complex in Mazar-i-Sharif in the early evening after a six-hour siege. Several security officials, including a district police chief, were killed, along with several civilians.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just before its traditional spring offensive. With the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO combat troops at the end of 2014, militants in recent weeks have stepped up their attacks on Afghan security forces in an attempt to undermine the government of new President Ashraf Ghani.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul strongly condemned what it called "the horrific attack" on the courthouse in Balkh province. "Today's attack reminds us of the risks that police, prosecutors and judges face in going about their daily work pursuing impartial justice and rule of law in Afghanistan," the embassy said.
Authorities said three to five assailants wearing suicide vests lobbed grenades and exchanged gunfire with security forces, setting one of the buildings in the compound on fire.
The head of the main hospital in the city, Khuja Noor Mohammad Faiz, said the facility received five bodies and treated 25 wounded people. Some Afghan media outlets said the death toll had reached 10.
In a brief initial statement, the Afghan Interior Ministry said three of the five bombers were killed by security forces.
Witnesses saw Taliban insurgents forcing their way into the crowded courthouse by throwing grenades at the front gate and firing indiscriminately.
Local police say security personnel, visitors, prosecutors and court staff were among those wounded. Ambulances were seen transporting victims to hospitals.
Hours earlier, police reported a bomb blast in the eastern province of Khost that wounded around a dozen people, mostly civilians.