Smokes rises after a deadly suicide attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Jan. 24, 2018.
Smokes rises after a deadly suicide attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Jan. 24, 2018.

ISLAMABAD - Gunmen stormed the offices of the international aid agency Save the Children in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad Wednesday, killing at least three staff members of the aid group and wounding more than 20 other people.

Attullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial government of Nangarhar, says a group of armed men stormed the compound after a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at the entrance. Security forces engaged in a long gun battle with the attackers before it ended. Khogyani said security forces cordoned off the compound soon after the attack. 

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Sayed Ahmad, an eyewitness, said he saw a new Toyota Corolla approaching the gate of Save the Children. Soon after, he saw the explosion and three or four attackers in security uniforms entering the building. 

Other eyewitnesses said they saw at least two dead bodies inside the compound. The fire that started in the Save the Children compound spread to the neighboring building of another charity, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. Eyewitnesses said they saw that building engulfed in flames. 

The Afghan Taliban have denied responsibility for this attack.

Save the Children condemned the attack "in the strongest terms."  "We are shocked and appalled at the violence, carried out against our staff in Afghanistan who are dedicated humanitarians, committed to improving the lives and well being of millions of children across the country," the group said while confirming that three staff members were killed in the attack.  

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Twitter that "We strongly condemn the attack and extend our deepest condolences to the victims and families."

Jalalabad is the provincial capital of Nangarhar province, which has been a stronghold of Islamic State Khorasan Province,(ISKP) the IS chapter for Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The Afghan Taliban is also active in the area but denied any role in Wednesday's attack.

Uniformed and plainclothed Afghan security forces
Uniformed and plainclothed Afghan security forces patrol the site of a deadly suicide attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Jan. 24, 2018.

The Afghan army and NATO forces are still fighting ISKP in parts of Nangarhar. The province was the deadliest for U.S. forces anywhere in the world last year. Out of the 21 U.S. combat deaths around the world, one third were in Nangarhar.

The attack on the Save the Children underscores the growing dangers for international aid groups operating in Afghanistan. The International Red Cross announced last October that it was drastically reducing its presence there after seven of its employees were killed in attacks last year. 

Wednesday's attack in Jalalabad comes just days after gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in the capital, Kabul, killing at least 22 people, many of them foreign nationals.