KABUL, Afghanistan --A loud explosion struck outside Afghanistan's Defense Ministry in Kabul on Saturday, reportedly killing at least nine civilians in an attack less than a mile from where U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was staying in the capital.
Gunshots were heard after the blast, which occurred a day after Hagel arrived in a surprise visit to Kabul. The Associated Press reported that Afghan officials said an apparent suicide attacker on a bicycle hit the main entrance to the Defense Ministry about 9 a.m., killing nine people and wounding several others.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP reported.
The U.S. military in Kabul confirmed that there was a "suicide improvised explosive device attack, followed by small-arms fire" near the ministry.
Hagel, on his first trip abroad since becoming Defense secretary, was at a coalition facility in Kabul, safe and unharmed by the explosion, according to a U.S. official.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel "was in a briefing when the incident occurred. The briefing continued as planned without interruption."
Reporters accompanying Hagel on his trip were escorted to a basement office at Camp Eggers, a base near the Defense Ministry.
An announcement over the base loudspeaker said the facility was not under direct attack but advised everyone on the base to remain in a secure location.
Hagel later visited Bagram air base, north of Kabul.