KABUL — Suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a high-rise government office building in a busy section of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least four civilians and three members of Afghan security forces in an hours-long battle that ended with all the assailants dead.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack on the Ministry of Telecommunications complex, the first major assault in the Afghan capital since early March.
But photographs from the scene, released by Afghan officials, showed the sprawled bodies of several alleged attackers next to a large, crumpled black-and-white banner of the Islamic State.
The Interior Ministry said four civilians and three members of the security forces were dead, along with four attackers. At least a dozen people were reported injured. The minister of telecommunications gave a higher count for the civilian deaths, saying at least five ministry employees had been killed.
Hundreds of workers were safely evacuated from the 18-story building, even as gunfire and explosions continued.
The Taliban insurgents said in a statement that they had no connection with the attack, which came a day after first-ever scheduled talks were canceled between a variety of Afghan leaders and Taliban representatives in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
In Kabul, security officials said the attack began with a suicide bomb, and then four gunmen entered the ministry, using a small shrine to climb a wall leading to the office building in downtown Kabul.
While security forces were able to rescue hundreds of ministry workers, others were trapped inside for hours while the battle continued around the building.
Nasrullah Shahidani, 28, said he was working in his office on the 13th floor of the ministry when he heard a loud boom. He said he and several colleagues hid inside a room with a steel door for several hours before descending the stairs and fleeing into the street.
“We could hear the gunfire as we came down,” Shahidani said after taking cover several blocks away.
Around 2 p.m., as the sounds of gunfire and explosions continued, relatives of trapped office workers huddled outside police barricades. One of them, Lal Mohammad Safari, managed to speak by cellphone several times to his son inside the ministry.
“We are really worried. His mother is crying at home,” Safari said.
The building is located near several other government ministries, a large mosque, a block-long city park and the luxury Serena hotel, which has been heavily fortified since being the target of several terrorist attacks over the past decade.
Kabul has been the scene of dozens of deadly terrorist attacks, including a massive truck bombing in May 2017 in a diplomatic and business zone that left more than 80 people dead and hundreds injured.
The most recent attack in the city was on March 7, when three people were killed by rocket fire and dozens more were wounded at an open-air political gathering to commemorate the death of an ethnic Hazara and Shiite militia leader who was slain by the Taliban in 1995.
The Saturday attack came just over a week after the Taliban announced the launch of its annual spring offensive. The group has claimed attacks in scattered provinces since then.
Constable reported from Doha, Qatar. Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul contributed to this report.