April 19, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Armed militants in Afghanistan staged a coordinated assault on a key government security agency in the capital Tuesday morning, killing at least seven people and wounding more than 320. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

The attack, including a suicide car bombing, appears to have targeted an agency similar to the U.S. Secret Service, providing personal protection for high-ranking government officials. Ismail Kawasi, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said so far seven dead bodies and 327 wounded, including women and children, have been brought to area hospitals. An Interior Ministry statement said that dozens of civilians were killed and wounded in the attack. The casualty figures are expected to rise.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said that the suicide bombing was followed by an assault by armed militants. “One armed terrorist was shot and killed by security forces and the gun battle is still underway with an unknown number of other terrorists,” said Sediqqi.

Later a spokesman for the Kabul police chief, Basir Mujahid, said that the gun battle in the compound had ended. “This was one of the most powerful explosions I have ever heard in my life,” said Obaidullah Tarakhail, a police commander who was present when the attack began. Tarakhail said he couldn’t see or hear anything for 20 minutes after the initial explosion. “All around was dark and covered with thick smoke and dust,” he said.

Dozens of civilian apartment buildings, houses, shops and several government buildings were damaged by the car bomb blast. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks recently since announcing the start of their spring offensive last week.

President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack and saying it, “clearly shows the enemy’s defeat in face-to-face battle with Afghan security forces.” The attack in Kabul comes four days of another attack by Taliban insurgents in northern Kunduz province which was repelled by the Afghan security forces.

Officials in Kunduz said that security has improved in the city and that the Taliban were defeated in other parts of the province, but operations were still underway to clear militant fighters from the rest of the province.

The Taliban held Kunduz for three days last year before being driven out by a two-week counteroffensive aided by U.S.-airstrikes. It was their biggest foray into an urban area since 2001.

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