Taliban suicide attack targets French restaurant in Kabul
A Taliban suicide car bomber hit a French restaurant popular with foreigners in Kabul Friday, in a New Year's day attack that marks the latest in a series of brazen insurgent assaults.
At least four people were wounded in the attack on Le Jardin, an Afghan-owned eatery, which caused a piercingly loud explosion and left a building engulfed in flames.
The attack comes a day after Afghanistan announced four-way talks in Pakistan on January 11, aimed at jump-starting peace negotiations with the resurgent Taliban.
"We can confirm a suicide car bomb attack on Le Jardin," Fraidoon Obaidi, the head of Kabul's Criminal Investigation Department, told AFP.
"We are busy extinguishing the fire at the scene," he added.
The information was corroborated by a Western official in Kabul.
Security forces cordoned off the area and firefighters and ambulances were seen rushing to the restaurant, which sports a large garden festooned with rose bushes and is a popular hangout for foreigners.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Twitter claimed several foreigners had been killed and wounded in the suicide attack.
Taliban insurgents routinely exaggerate the death toll in attacks on government and foreign targets.
The Afghan health ministry said four people were wounded and taken to hospital for treatment, without confirming their nationality. It rejected local media reports claiming that a 10-year-old child had been killed.
- Uncertainty over talks -
The attack comes just days after Pakistan's powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif visited Kabul to try to prepare the ground for fresh peace talks with the resurgent Taliban.
Both sides agreed to hold a first round of dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China on January 11 to lay out a comprehensive roadmap for peace, officials in Kabul said.
Pakistan -- the Taliban's historic backers -- hosted a milestone first round of talks in July but the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.
Afghanistan sees the support of Pakistan as vital to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
But despite the growing bonhomie with Islamabad, analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off.
On Monday, just a day after Sharif's visit, a Taliban bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle near Kabul airport, killing one civilian in an attack targeting a NATO convoy.
Afghan forces are currently battling to push back Taliban insurgents who seized large swathes of the key opium-rich district of Sangin in the southern province of Helmand.
Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the Taliban to make more military gains to try to achieve greater concessions during talks.
Friday's attack evoked memories of an attack on another restaurant popular with expats, the Taverna du Liban, in January 2014, which left 21 people dead, including 13 foreigners.
Desperate customers tried to hide under tables as one attacker detonated his suicide vest at the fortified entrance to the eatery and two other militants stormed inside and opened fire.
In December that year a suicide bomber blew himself up near a crowd attending a play at a French cultural centre, in the complex of the French-run Esteqlal high school, killing at least two people and injuring more than 20.
© 2016 AFP