KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban gunmen launched a coordinated attack on an international aid group’s guesthouse in an upscale Kabul neighborhood Friday, setting off a furious firefight that lasted several hours and renewing fears of the insurgents’ ability to strike virtually at will in the heart of the capital.
The late-afternoon attack took place in Kabul’s Shar-e-Naw district, home to numerous heavily fortified compounds housing international aid groups and Afghan governmental and security entities.
The assault began with a powerful car bomb detonated at the gates of the guesthouse used by workers for the International Organization for Migration, an inter-governmental group based in Geneva. Insurgents then raided the compound, throwing hand grenades and severely burning an Italian woman working for the organization, said IOM spokesman Chris Lom.
Three other people at the compound, all of them security guards, suffered minor injuries from the grenade blasts, Lom said. Mohammad Zahir, criminal investigations chief for the Kabul police, said one officer was killed and five others injured.
All of the attackers were wearing explosives-filled suicide vests, said police spokesman Hashmat Stanakzai. Armed with automatic rifles and grenades, they battled with dozens of Afghan security personnel for several hours. Some of the attackers were shot and killed by police but at least two others holed up in the IOM guesthouse and continued to exchange gunfire with security forces, Stanakzai said.
Late Friday, Police Chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi said five of the assailants had been killed, but that fighting was continuing.
The Taliban militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, contending that they had laid siege to a U.S. military guesthouse. The Taliban often exaggerate the nature of their attacks.
Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan, condemned the attacks.
“The insurgents have repeatedly shown little regard for innocent civilians and the future of Afghanistan as demonstrated by attacks such as these,” Dunford said. “Their actions fly in the face of their claim that they are looking to avoid civilian casualties.”
The assault was the second major insurgent attack to strike the center of Kabul in eight days. A suicide bombing on May 16 targeting a U.S. convoy killed 15 people, including six Americans. Hezb-i-Islami, a Taliban-affiliated insurgent group, claimed responsibility for that attack.
Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul, and staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.