(AFP) KABUL — Explosions rocked central Kabul for several hours on Friday after Taliban gunmen launched a major suicide and gun attack centred on a compound of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
One police officer was killed and five militants were shot dead as security forces hunted down the attackers, with prolonged bursts of gunfire and grenade blasts heard across the Afghan capital.
A United Nations building and several other official premises were caught up in the coordinated assault that started when a suicide car bomb sent a plume of dark smoke into the sky.
Commandos shot dead five gunmen who were firing and throwing grenades from a building, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.
One policeman was killed by the suicide car bomb and at least five local civilians and two police officers were injured, he said.
No other fatalities were immediately reported, but an Italian woman working for IOM was seriously wounded by a grenade explosion.
“I strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack centred on a compound of the International Organization for Migration,” Jan Kubis, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said in a statement.
“Three IOM staff members were injured, one seriously. A staff member from the International Labour Organization was also injured.”
The Geneva-based IOM, which is affiliated with the UN, works across the world to improve management of cross-border migration.
IOM spokesman Chris Lom confirmed to AFP that the badly wounded employee was an Italian woman.
Friday’s attack comes a week after another suicide car bomb in Kabul targeted a foreign military convoy, killing 15 people including five Americans.
The Taliban announced their annual “spring offensive” on April 27, opening a crucial period as local security forces take the lead in the fight against the insurgents.
The blasts hit the centre of Kabul at about 4:00 pm (1130 GMT) on Friday — Afghanistan’s weekly day off — and fighting continued into the night.
Norwegian soldiers were among the security forces involved in the response operation, an AFP photographer witnessed, but the NATO-led military coalition gave no further details.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP that his group was responsible and that the main target was a guesthouse allegedly used by Afghan and US intelligence staff.
“A group of mujahideen armed with heavy and light weapons took position in a building and are firing on several targets,” he said.
“The main target was a guesthouse where foreigners, including members of the CIA who train members of the Afghan spy agency stay.”
Jawed Kazem, a local shopkeeper, told AFP: “I was sitting in my shop when the explosion happened. It was a big explosion which threw me off my chair. Minutes later another explosion happened.”
The suicide bombing on the NATO convoy on May 16 was the first major attack in Kabul since March 9, when a bomber on a bicycle killed nine people outside the defence ministry during a visit by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The attacks further underline the capital’s vulnerability to militant assaults as 100,000 NATO troops gradually withdraw from Afghanistan ahead of the end of international combat operations next year.
More than 11 years after the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, efforts to seek a political settlement ending the violence have so far made little progress, but pressure is growing ahead of the NATO withdrawal.