The Washington Post

Blasts, gun battle erupt in key Kabul district

A wounded Afghan policeman is carried away from the site of an explosion in Kabul May 24, 2013. Several large explosions rocked a busy area in the centre of the Afghan capital on Friday (OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS)

Bomb blasts and gunfire erupted in the center of the Afghan capital Friday afternoon, shattering the quiet after weekly prayer services as an intense battle raged into the night between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents.

Afghan police said that by the time the fighting ended Friday night, all six attackers and two policemen were dead. They said 12 people were injured, including four foreigners working for the International Organization for Migration.

It was the second brazen daylight attack in Kabul in the last eight days and one of the most aggressive insurgent penetrations of the capital in the past year. On May 16, a suicide car bomber from another insurgent group killed two U.S. service members, four American civilian contractors and nine Afghans after he rammed a U.S. military convoy during rush hour.

Gunshots and heavy weapons fire could be heard throughout the central city Friday long after dark fell. Residents in suburban neighborhoods several miles away reported hearing shots in their areas as well.

“I think they are all over the city,” one resident e-mailed The Washington Post around 7 p.m. Kabul time.

The attack was concentrated in a high-security district of the city that includes the Interior Ministry, the national intelligence police headquarters and a government hospital. It also includes a U.N. residential club and a U.N. immigration assistance agency.

A Taliban spokesman said in messages to the media that Taliban fighters blasted open the gate of a facility connected to the CIA and then entered the building. Afghan officials confirmed that at least two attackers were still occupying a building three hours after the blast, but they would not identify the site.

The officials said the surviving attackers continued firing shots and grenades at security forces. Everyone else inside the building was evacuated, they said.

Downtown commercial and government districts of Kabul were mostly deserted because of the Muslim weekly holiday, and police quickly sealed off all streets into the area. Local TV news broadcasts showed dozens of police rushing through empty streets, ducking behind vehicles and firing.

The Taliban launched its annual spring offensive last month, and its fighters have since carried out bombings and gun attacks in scattered incidents across the country. Both the Taliban and another insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, have vowed to intensify attacks as coalition forces pull out of the country in the coming year. Hezb-i-Islami claimed responsibility for the May 16 bombing.

Pamela Constable covers immigration issues and immigrant communities. A former foreign correspondent for the Post based in Kabul and New Delhi, she also reports periodically from Afghanistan and other trouble spots overseas.



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