Two people, including a child, died when fighters attacked the Afghan parliament building in Kabul, injuring dozens of civilians and forcing lawmakers to evacuate amid gunfire and explosions.
The Taliban claimed responsibility only minutes after the attack on Monday, which unfolded after a suicide car bomber blew themselves up outside the parliament gates and six other attackers tried to storm the building.
When parliament guards pushed the attackers back, the insurgents retreated to an empty building under construction, from where they fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at the parliament, said police spokesman Abdurrahman Rahimi.
Police said two civilians, a woman and a child, were killed in the attack, which left a thick plume of smoke hanging over the parliament complex and tore a huge crater in an adjoining street.
At the time of the attack, lawmakers were gathered to vote on the nomination of a new defence minister. Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, told the Guardian that the insurgents picked the time and location of the attack because of the presence of many high-level officials.
Mohammad Aref Rahmani, a parliamentarian in the building at the time, said the blast could be felt inside and parts of the ceiling fell down.
“There was dust all over the room. After that, we heard explosions from RPGs and lighter weapons, like Kalashnikovs and machine guns,” he said.
Fawzia Koofi, another lawmaker, said the security forces were slow to respond.
“We went to the basement but we didn’t see any security forces. We went to the basement ourselves,” she said. After 30 minutes, she and other parliamentarians were able to get inside their armoured vehicles to drive to safety.
“The enemies of would like to harm our democracy. We are not armed people, we are just talking,” Koofi said.
Kabir Amiri, a spokesman for Kabul hospitals, told the Guardian that 31 civilians had been injured in the attack.
The attack follows recent incidents which have rattled the Afghan capital. On 14 May, gunmen .
Two weeks later, on 26 May, , housing dozens of foreign contractors, but luckily this time there were no fatalities.
The parliament attack is also a sign of division within the insurgency. Some leaders seem open to reconciliation but others are less convinced that opting for a role in the established political system is the way to go.
While recent attacks intensify on the ground in Afghanistan, Taliban leaders based in Qatar have been meeting informally with people close to the Afghan government, including female lawmakers, in attempts to restart peace talks.
The Pakistani government condemned the attack, saying in a statement that it commended the Afghan security forces. “We stand with our Afghan brothers in our common struggle against terrorism,” the statement said.
The insurgents, who rejected a proposal from clerics to impose a ceasefire during the fasting month of Ramadan, have been emboldened by last year’s withdrawal of foreign troops, and by the prolonged deadlock in the new government, which has been unable to appoint people for many key security positions.
Over the weekend, in the north of the country, Taliban forces took control of Chardara district in Kunduz province, which has borne the brunt of the Taliban’s annual fighting season.
Speaker hailed for calm reaction
In the aftermath of the attack, the Afghan parliament’s speaker, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, has emerged as something of a hero. Video recordings show Ibrahimi remaining exceptionally calm, as dust from the explosions and gunfire rises around him, and lawmakers scatter for safety.
Ibrahimi, who was speaking to parliamentarians gathered to vote on the government’s nomination for a new defence minister, initially attempted to continue his speech before being led away by security personnel.
He was about to introduce the second vice president and defence minister nominee Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, when the attack occurred. The speaker proceeded to calmly escort lawmakers out of the building, causing users on social media to hail his courage.