Armed militants in Afghanistan have staged a coordinated assault on a key government security agency in the capital Tuesday morning, causing an unconfirmed number of fatalities and wounding more than 200 people. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.
The attack, including a suicide car bombing, appears to have targeted an agency similar to the U.S. Secret Service, providing personal protection for high-ranking government officials.
Ismail Kawasi, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said so far 208 wounded people, including women and children, have been brought to area hospitals. An Interior Ministry statement said that there have been fatalities but it was still unclear how many people were killed.
The casualty figures are expected to rise as a gun battle was still underway late Tuesday morning.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said Tuesday that the suicide bombing was followed by an assault by armed militants. The area has been surrounded by government forces and dozens of ambulances have rushed to the scene.
“Security forces are in a fight with an unknown number of armed insurgents right now,” Mohammad Afzel, a police officer at the site of the attack, told The Associated Press.
“This was one of the most powerful explosions I have ever heard in my life,” said Obaidullah Tarakhail, a police commander who was present when the attack began. Tarakhail said he couldn’t see or hear anything for 20 minutes after the initial explosion. “All around was dark and covered with thick smoke and dust,” he said.
Dozens of civilian apartment buildings, houses, shops and several government buildings were damaged by the car bomb blast.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, and said that a number of their fighters were currently inside the compound battling with security forces.
Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks recently since announcing the start of their spring offensive last week.
President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the attack and saying it, “clearly shows the enemy’s defeat in face-to-face battle with Afghan security forces.”