A powerful car bomb-and-gun attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul is reported to have killed and wounded dozens of people. Officials said the ensuing clashes between the assailants and Afghan security forces were raging six hours into the siege.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for plotting the suicide raid against what it said was the logistics and engineering center of the Afghan Defense Ministry.
Residents said Monday’s blast occurred in a central part of the city during morning rush hour, sending a plume of black smoke over Kabul.
Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said in a statement that several gunmen later took positions in a nearby under construction multi-story building following the blast and started firing at Afghan police forces on duty.
Rahimi added that Afghan special forces reached the site and an operation was underway to neutralize the assailants. He said two attackers had already been killed while the rest were currently holed up in “civilian homes” around the site of the attack. Rahimi noted that security forces have rescued more than 200 people to safety.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah condemned the Taliban attack, saying it “showcases the group’s inherent criminal nature” and vowed the violence will not deter security forces from pursuing and punishing the “miscreants.”
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.
A senior Afghan journalist, Bilal Sarwary, tweeted the massive blast killed at least 40 people and wounded 80 others, quoting Afghan intelligence, police and government officials.
Authorities in Kabul, however, have not immediately offered any details about whether the blast caused fatalities.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that a vehicle-born bomb was detonated before “multiple” suicide attackers entered the Defense Ministry-related compounded and engaged Afghan security forces.
Mujahid said the raid killed “tens of officers and workers of the Defense Ministry, though the insurgent group often releases inflated claims for such attacks.
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.