Afghan Taliban attack aid group, 2 guards killed

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A Taliban suicide car bomber and five heavily armed gunmen attacked an international aid group's guest house in the Afghan capital on Friday, killing two guards and setting off an hours-long battle with security forces in an upscale Kabul neighborhood, authorities said.

The International Organization for Migration said four of its workers were wounded, including an Italian woman badly burned by a grenade at its quarters for international workers. Police said at least five attackers also died.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the assault, the second major strike inside Kabul in a little more than a week.

The insurgents have unleashed a wave of bombings and assassinations around the country, testing Afghan security forces' ability to respond with less help from international forces who have begun a withdrawal that will see most foreign troops gone by the end of 2014.

A Nepalese guard and an Afghan police officer providing security to the compound died in the assault, and at least five of the attackers were also dead, said Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi.

The attackers stormed into the building with grenade launchers after blasting open the compound's gate with the car bomb, Salangi said. He said police were able to evacuate the guest house with none of the residents killed.

Four hours after the initial car bomb blast, which shook much of the city, fighting was still going on in the upscale Shahr-i-Now neighborhood, home to several international groups' fortified compounds.

By late evening, security forces were able to enter the building and were searching room by room for the final attacker, said Latif Khan, director of the local police district.

"We are on the third floor. There are still two floors to clear," Khan said late Friday night. "No one is shooting now, but we are not sure if the last gunman is dead or just hiding."

Dozens of Afghan police were rushed to the scene in trucks and took up positions around the area after the initial blast at about 4 p.m., taking cover behind blast walls and running through a thick cloud of smoke from the bomb. At least one wounded officer was seen being helped away by his comrades.

"Wild terrorists attacked ... the IOM," police official Zemarai Bashari told The Associated Press at the scene. "Our forces are fighting the enemy with courage and honesty."

IOM spokesman Chris Lom told the AP in Geneva that an Italian woman working for the group was seriously burned by a grenade thrown into the compound by the attackers.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said insurgent fighters killed several people in the compound, which he said was targeted because it is "the place of residence of trainers for the CIA." He said late in the afternoon that he was in contact with the attackers and that their "morale is high" despite the fierce fighting.

Initial reports identified the target as a United Nations compound. However, the U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, said in a statement that all U.N. staff in Kabul were accounted for.

The IOM is an inter-governmental organization based in Geneva that helps resettle people worldwide. It operates in Afghanistan in a mission coordinated by the U.N. but is not an agency of the world body.

It was the second militant attack to hit Kabul in just over a week.

Last Thursday, a suicide car bomber killed six Americans, including two soldiers, and nine Afghan bystanders in an attack on a U.S. convoy. Another insurgent faction, Hizb-i-Islami, claimed that bombing.

The attacks broke two months of relative calm in Kabul. As the Taliban spring offensive gets underway, it will test the Afghan forces' ability to keep security now that international combat forces are pulling back ahead of the 2014 withdrawal.

Most of the U.S.-led military coalition will leave by the end of next year, more than a dozen years after launching the war to topple the Taliban rule over its sheltering of al-Qaida's leadership. (AP)


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