Gunmen set off at least three explosions in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Wednesday and then battled security forces from buildings they occupied in the latest in a spate of violence to rock the city.
Six wounded were brought into the trauma hospital run by Italian medical aid group Emergency, of whom one was dead on arrival. Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Majroh said the casualty toll was likely to rise once security forces were able to get a clearer picture of the attack.
As police cordoned off part of the city’s main commercial area, an official from a branch of Afghanistan International Bank reached by telephone said customers were sheltering in the bank premises as gunfire continued in the street outside.
“We can hear the gun shots and we are waiting inside the bank’s safe room until the clashes end,” he said.
Afghanistan’s Western-backed government is fighting an intensifying war with both the Taliban and the Islamic State that has turned much of Kabul into a high security zone of concrete blast walls and razor wire.
But despite repeated government pledges to tighten security, hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in attacks in the city since the beginning of the year and authorities have appeared powerless to stop the bloodshed.
Islamic State claimed responsibility of one of the three blasts on its Amaq new agency but many officials doubt the group, which has its stronghold in a remote eastern border region of Nangarhar province, has the capacity to mount such complex attacks.
A senior Afghan security official said intelligence services believe the Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated to the Taliban which has a long record of urban attacks, was the real organiser of the attack.
ELECTION PREPARATIONS A TARGET
The initial blast on Wednesday hit a police station in western Kabul‘s Dasht-e-Barchi district, at around midday, said police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai.
Minutes later, two back-to-back explosions went off in Shar-e Naw, the city’s main business district, near the office of a travel agency that processes visa applications for India.
Najib Danish, spokesman for interior ministry, said gunmen had followed the blasts and fought intense gunbattles with security forces from nearby buildings.
A senior official at the Indian embassy confirmed that one blast took place outside a travel company’s office and many security guards were injured.
The Afghan capital has seen an increase in bombings and other attacks against the security forces and civilians since the Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive on April 25.
With preparations for elections now underway across much of the country, more attacks are expected.
Fighting traditionally picks up in Afghanistan as warmer weather melts snow in mountain passes, allowing insurgents to move around more easily and the Taliban have put security forces under heavy pressure in many areas of the country.
Wednesday’s attack comes just over a week after twin blasts in Kabul killed 26 people including nine journalists on April 30.