At least seven dead as attackers storm Afghan ministry building

Suicide attackers stormed the Afghan ministry of communications on Saturday, killing at least seven people. The assault came the day after the collapse of long-anticipated peace talks between the and a broad spectrum of their Afghan opponents.

The attack also ended weeks of relative calm in the Afghan capital. Militants dressed in Afghan security forces uniforms targeted one of the tallest buildings in Kabul, next to the prestigious Serena hotel, which has been hit by insurgent attacks several times previously.

Three civilians and four policemen were killed in several hours of fighting as gunfire and blasts echoed through Kabul’s normally busy central hub, and security forces evacuated and sealed off streets. Eight other people were injured including several women.

“I was near the shrine when I saw four armed men with very new uniforms,” said Shahab Baloch, 30, an employee of a private finance company who narrowly escaped the attack when passing through the area.

“They had Kalashnikovs and two of them had something else in their hands. I took a couple more steps then there was an explosion, with dust everywhere so I couldn’t see anything. I lay behind some blast barriers and the gunfire started.”

Television images showed people fleeing the high-rise and nearby buildings, some scrambling out of windows on the lower floors of the 18-storey tower.

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In total, nearly 2,000 people were evacuated safely from the ministry of communications, the ministry of culture and information and a government statistics office, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

A suicide bomber launched the attack by blowing himself up outside the communications ministry, according to police chief Gen Sayed Mohammad Roshandil.

That blast cleared the way for four gunmen to enter the heavily guarded government compound and the ministry buildings, sparking a siege that lasted several hours, Associated Press reported.

One man claimed on Facebook he was trapped inside as attackers advanced. “Please pray for us as the enemy has reached very close to us. Suicide attack on communication ministry,” Syed Jaillani Jallan wrote, according to AFP.

Several of the dead appear to have worked at the ministry, according to a tweet from Shahzad Aryobee, minister of communications and information technologies. “The terrorist attack martyred five of our colleagues. We send our thoughts and prayers to those affected,” .

The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, although it came just a week after the official launch of its annual “spring offensive” military campaign. There was no immediate comment from Islamic State’s regional affiliate, which has carried out several bloody attacks in the Afghan capital.

The violence ended weeks of relative peace in Kabul, after a series of significant attacks last year, including a large bomb hidden in an ambulance that killed more than 100 people.

Bloodshed increased nationwide in 2018, with a according to UN figures. The Taliban is also openly active in more than two-thirds of the country, .

It came the day after another blow for Afghans hoping that a negotiated end to decades of war might be within reach. A summit due to be held in Qatar, between the Taliban and a broad range of Afghans who opposed them, was called off at the last minute over disagreements about

Although the Taliban has been talking intensively to the US for months, and came close to , it has refused to negotiate with an Afghan government it denounces as a puppet regime.

Political jostling ahead of presidential elections due later this year has brought additional complications to efforts to broker peace. Officials have said they hope to hold the intra-Afghan meeting soon, but no new date has been set.

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Source : theguardian[dot]com