KABUL, Afghanistan -- In one of the deadliest attacks in the Afghan capital in months, a team of attackers stormed a Lebanese restaurant popular with Westerners on Friday night and sprayed gunfire across the busy dining room, killing at least 14 people and wounding four others, security officials said.
The dead included foreigners and Afghans, including a newly married couple who were having dinner at Taverna du Liban, in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan section of Kabul, which also houses the embassies of the United States and other Western nations.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which began about 7:30 p.m., when one attacker detonated a bomb at the entrance to the restaurant. Two other attackers then ran into the restaurant and started shooting, inflicting most of the casualties, said Kabul’s police chief, Mohammad Zahir.
Afghan security forces arrived and killed the attackers after a gunbattle that lasted over an hour, Zahir said.
It was the deadliest attack in Kabul since last June, when a car bombing outside the Supreme Court building killed 17 people and wounded 39 others.
The Taliban said in a statement that “a large number of foreign occupiers” were killed in the attack.
The United Nations said four of its employees were missing after the attack. A U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, Ari Gaitanis, told the Associated Press that they “reportedly could have been present in close proximity to the scene of Friday's attack.”
[Updated 5:20 p.m. PST, Jan. 17: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Friday that three U.N. personnel, who he did not identify, were killed, AP reported. Ban said “such targeted attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.]
The attack was certain to rekindle questions about the security of Kabul less than a year before the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition is due to withdraw from Afghanistan. As Afghan President Hamid Karzai delays signing a post-2014 security pact with the United States, Obama administration officials reportedly are considering leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of the year and leaving the country’s security wholly in the hands of its forces.
The Obama administration has touted success in weakening the Taliban, but the insurgent group has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to attack Western and Afghan government targets in Kabul and outlying provinces.
The Lebanese restaurant serves foreigners working in Kabul, as well as a rich Afghan clientele. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, the deputy interior minister, said that among the dead were an Afghan couple from eastern Logar province who had been married seven months ago and had recently returned to Kabul from overseas.
Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and staff writer Bengali from New Delhi.