ISLAMABAD - A group of five heavily armed men Monday carried out a powerful vehicle bomb-and-gun attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul, killing at least one person and wounding dozens of others. Officials said the ensuing clashes lasted about nine hours before Afghan security forces killed all the assailants.
Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said security forces were in the process of clearing the area and detonating explosives the assailants had brought with them. He promised to release a “factual" casualty toll soon.
Earlier, a senior Afghan journalist, Bilal Sarwary, quoting Afghan intelligence, police and government officials, tweeted that at least 40 people were killed, most of them military personnel. But government officials didn't confirm this.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for plotting the suicide raid against what it said was the logistics and engineering center of the Afghan Defense Ministry.
Residents said the blast occurred in a highly secured central part of the city during morning rush hour, sending a plume of black smoke over Kabul.
Rahimi said several gunmen took positions in a nearby under construction multi-story building following the blast before Afghan security forces engagement them in the gunfight.
He added Afghan special forces later reached the site to help neutralize the assailants. He said some of the attackers had later taken positions in “civilian homes” around the site of the attack. Rahimi noted that security forces had rescued more than 200 people to safety while battling the insurgents.
Afghan President Ghani denounced the Taliban’s attack, saying his government was conducting peace efforts but the Taliban once again showed their “nefarious will for continuation of the war and killing of civilians."
The United Nations said it was appalled by the Taliban-claimed attack in a civilian-populated area of Kabul and deeply saddened by credible reports of many injured children at nearby schools.
Ambulances rushed to the scene and ferried one dead and around 100 injured people to hospitals, including children, the Afghan health ministry spokesman said. The education ministry announced in a statement that 52 students were among those injured.
Staff at the nearby office building of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) were also among the casualties. Television footage showed the AFF’s acting chief was among those who suffered injuries.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that a vehicle-borne bomb was detonated before “multiple” suicide attackers entered the Defense Ministry-related compounded and engaged Afghan security forces.
The violence coincided with intensified Taliban battlefield attacks across Afghanistan that officials said have killed nearly 100 Afghan security forces over the past two days.
Monday’s attack comes as the Taliban and the United States are engaged in a fresh round of talks in Qatar aimed at finding a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan.
Washington says it is trying through the dialogue to lay the ground for inter-Afghan talks for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
But a Taliban spokesman on Monday reiterated it will participate in talks with Afghan stakeholders only after a timetable for withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops from Afghanistan in the presence of “international guarantors.”
Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s negotiating team, however, ruled out peace talks with the government in Kabul “as government.” The insurgent group dismisses the Afghan administration as an American “puppet” with no decision-making authority.