Eight dead as Taliban attack British Council in Kabul

19th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Eight people were killed as a wave of suicide bombings rocked Britain's cultural centre in Kabul Friday, a public holiday marking Afghanistan's independence from London in 1919.

Two blasts struck the British Council offices in Kabul after three or four Taliban suicide bombers got inside the compound, prompting a firefight which started at around 5:45 am (0115 GMT) and was still raging hours later.

Four further explosions were heard over the following seven hours.

One or two foreigners were killed or injured in the attack, said Afghan interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui, without specifying their nationality.

An official source speaking on condition of anonymity said the dead included "two to three Nepalese".

British government offices in Kabul are often guarded by Nepalese ex-Gurkha soldiers now working for private security firms.

The British Council is an official organisation part-funded by the British government that promotes cultural relations in offices around the world.

"Eight people, mostly police, are killed and 10 others injured," said interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui. "There's one person, one of the attackers who is still alive and resisting. The area has not yet been cleared."

He added that three or four suicide bombers initially entered the compound.

The British Foreign Office and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan confirmed that the target of the blast was the British Council.

An AFP photographer at the scene saw British, US and French forces there, while an AFP reporter witnessed two large ISAF armoured vehicles arriving as helicopters circled.

At one point, a helicopter landed close to the scene of the attack, possibly to evacuate the wounded, while Afghan security forces have taken up position on the roofs of buildings nearby, the AFP reporter said.

An ISAF spokesman, Captain Justin Brockhoff, said the international military force had sent a "limited number" of troops to the scene.

"We have a very small contribution to the Afghan-led response," he said. Afghan security forces are in overall control of security in Kabul.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, contacted by AFP, claimed the militant group leading a 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan was responsible for the attack, which he said was to mark the nation's independence day.

He said the attackers' target was the British Council and a United Nations guest house. But a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Dan McNorton, denied any of its sites were involved.

"Taliban mujahideen stormed these two compounds and heavy fighting is going on with the Afghan police," Mujahid said.

"Today is our independence day from Britain. They recognised our independence 92 years ago -- today's attack was marking that day.

"Now the British have invaded our country again and they will recognise our independence day again."

Britain is the second-largest provider of troops to the international military effort fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan after the United States, with around 9,500 forces mainly in the south.

At the scene was the burning wreckage of a car that had rammed into the wall of the British Council compound and exploded. Ambulances and the emergency services shuttled back and forth rescuing injured people.

Witnesses told how they were jolted from their sleep by the sound of the first blast.

"It woke us up. The windows and glass were broken, the firing was going on, and my two daughters were slightly injured (by shattered glass)," said Amadullah, a shopkeeper living in the house next door to the British Council.

The British Council's website says its work in Kabul is mainly focused on providing support for Afghans wanting to learn English, "for which there is an overwhelming demand".

While Kabul is seen as more stable than some other parts of Afghanistan, it has been hit by a series of high-profile attacks.

In the most recent, 21 people were killed in June when the Taliban attacked the city's Intercontinental Hotel, popular with foreigners.

© 2011 AFP

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