Wave of Taliban attacks hits Kabul
A group of Taliban militants attacked three government buildings with explosives and gunfire, leaving at least 19 people killed.KABUL – Taliban militants attacked three government buildings in the Afghan capital with suicide bombs and gunfire on Wednesday, killing at least 19 people and sowing panic across the city.
The army was deployed, a defence ministry spokesman said, while ambulances were heard rushing people to hospitals and authorities scrambled to cope with one of the most ambitious attacks on Kabul.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told AFP in a telephone call that 16 suicide attackers had entered the city and would carry out a wave of strikes.
"So far the information we have gathered from hospitals show that 54 people were wounded and another 19 were martyred in all the attacks in Kabul city today," ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim said.
Afghan officials said at least seven militants were also killed after they launched near-simultaneous attacks on the prisons directorate and justice and education ministries.
Witnesses of the attack on the justice ministry, which is close to the presidential palace in the heart of the capital, said several gunmen burst into the building and opened fire on security guards.
Some of the gunmen managed to run up several floors of the building, shooting as they went, they said.
Employees locked themselves in their offices and heavy exchanges of gunfire continued for several hours as security forces searched for any attackers still holed up in the ministry, an AFP reporter said.
Four suicide attackers were killed inside the building, the interior ministry said. At least one of them was strapped with explosives, a witness said.
"I saw several of them running into the ministry after a gunfight with police guards at the entrance, right next to the kitchen," said a cook, Juma Khan.
"One of them was shot by the security guards. Three of my colleagues were martyred. I saw their bodies," he said, describing the three as a cleaner, a cook and a painter.
As the dramatic assault unfolded, two suicide attackers also struck the prisons directorate in the north of the city, witnesses and officials said.
"I first heard gun shots," a resident of a nearby house, Mia Agha, told AFP.
"I saw a guy around 18 or 20 years old who was hiding behind this vehicle and police were firing at him. He had a pistol and was firing back.
"At one point he pulled a wire from his sleeve and then a blast took place with huge fire and thick smoke. After some minutes a second blast took place at the entrance to the building."
Agha said he saw many dead and wounded. The interior ministry media office said "four to five" civilians were killed as well as a policeman.
The area was splashed with blood and body parts, the reporter said. The windows of the five-storey building were shattered and the entrance where the second attacker struck was completely destroyed.
Another suicide attacker was shot dead in front of the education ministry, an interior ministry official told AFP. "His explosives detonated but it has not caused casualties," the official said.
The Taliban spokesman Mujahid confirmed the attacks, telling AFP that some of the suicide attackers dispatched to the city were awaiting orders.
"The attack at the ministry of justice and the directorate of prisons was revenge for mistreatment of Taliban prisoners," he said, apparently referring militants in the country's jails.
Security groups warned people to stay in their compounds and avoid moving about in the city. The attacks caused widespread panic with people from the provinces calling residents to find out what had happened, witnesses said.
The upheaval came as new US President Barack Obama considers a plan to double the number of US troops fighting against a widening Taliban-led insurgency, along with NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Richard Holbrooke, the new US envoy to the region, is in Pakistan as part of efforts to conduct a comprehensive US policy review as Washington hopes to turn around the battle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
[AFP / Expatica]