Kabul, Afghanistan - A group of suicide bombers equipped with explosive vests and guns targeted the British Council offices in west Kabul in the early hours of Friday morning, triggering hours-long gun battles with security forces and leaving eight Afghans dead.
British Council staff reportedly were unharmed. Hashmat Stanikzai, the spokesman for the Kabul police department, said that the dead included police officers, security guards of the British Council, and two civilians. Eight police also were injured.
Today’s attack came as Afghans marked the 92nd anniversary of their independence from Great Britain.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack in a statement issued from the palace.
"This attack is the work of ignorant people who have been caught in the trap of the enemies of Afghanistan and terrorist groups," Karzai said in the statement.
The British foreign minister, Alastair Burt, said, "I condemn this despicable attack on the British Council building in Kabul earlier today. My thoughts are with those killed and injured and their families and friends, including locals working to protect the British Council building.
"It is a sad fact that once again an attack aimed at the international community has killed Afghans."
The attack began when an explosives-filled sedan was detonated at the entrance to the British Council in Karte Parwan, a usually secure residential neighborhood in northwest Kabul that is home to senior government officials including first vice president Mohammad Qaseem Fahim and Karzai's main political rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
The Taliban claimed the credit for the attack in a text message sent to the media.
An advisor to the interior ministry who was at the scene told reporters on condition of anonymity that there were four attackers. Two of them detonated their cars filled with explosives at the building's, opening the way for two others who entered the building, he said.
The Taliban insurgents who are fighting Afghan and U.S.-led NATO forces described a six-hour battle that "caused heavy losses to foreign and domestic enemies," Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgent group, said in a statement posted on their website.
A McClatchy reporter who visited the site soon after the attack began saw glass on neighboring buildings shattered due to the car bomb explosion. The area was blocked off by security forces and NATO helicopters were hovering in the area. Still some gunfire was heard inside the compound. Pieces of the car used in the attack were scattered around.
"I prayed early morning and went to bed when I heard the explosion. I thought it is an earthquake — all of the glass of our house broke,” said Luful Rehman, 31, a resident who serves in the Afghan army.
Rehman's clothes were bloodstained and he said his 9-year-old niece was injured when glass fragments pierced her arm.
The British Council is the British government's international cultural relations arm and promotes educational and cultural opportunities around the world. It’s registered as a charity.
A police officer at the site of the blast, who declined to be named because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media, said that it was a suicide attack. "I saw a flame of fire, and one shrapnel hit our vehicle," he said.
A 61-year-old resident living behind the council office, Sheer Alam, said, "I was sleeping when heard a powerful explosion and the glasses of room shattered into pieces." He was lucky that he was not hurt — he was sleeping away from the shattered window.
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, condemned the attacks in a statement. It described the attack as "a combination of multiple vehicle-borne and personal-borne" improvised explosive devices.
"This despicable act of murder and destruction today, on this day of Afghan independence, is yet another indication the insurgents have nothing but contempt for the Afghan people," said General John R. Allen, commander of ISAF. "We will continue to support our Afghan counterparts to destroy the networks behind this attack, and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions," the statement added.
(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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