Suicide bombers strike in the heart of Kabul

Suicide bombers struck in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul today, triggering a series of explosions and gun battles that killed at least 17 people, police said.

The Taliban admitted responsibility, saying five suicide bombers conducted the early morning attacks on two buildings used by foreign citizens, while police said the attackers numbered at least three.

Dr Surbod Sanjiv Paul of India stayed holed up in his bathroom for three hours inside one of the guest houses when it came under attack.

"When I was coming out, I found two or three dead bodies," Dr Paul said later at a military hospital.

"When firing was going on, the first car bomb exploded and the full roof came on my head."

The attacks in Kabul came as thousands of US, Afghan and Nato soldiers were in their second week of a major offensive against a Taliban stronghold in the town of Marjah in Helmand province.

In recent weeks, more than two dozen senior and mid-level Taliban figures have been detained in Pakistan, suggesting that the attack in the capital could be a way for the militants to show that the insurgency remains strong.

At least 17 people were killed in today's attack and 32 wounded, said Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, head of criminal investigation for the Kabul police. He said three of the dead were police officers and most of the civilians who were killed were Indians.

The targets were two residential hotels. A car bomb flattened the Hamid Guest House and assailants also attacked the nearby Park Residence, Sayedzada said.

More than two hours after the first explosion, gunfire continued to ring out around one of the guest houses. Police with gas masks were attempting to smoke out a suspected attacker holed up in the basement of the building, according to police.

The Canadian Embassy issued a statement saying the violence would not undermine international commitment to Afghanistan.

"Attacks, such as today's bombing, will not deter Canada or its international partners from its commitment to support Afghans in their efforts to create a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society," the embassy said in a strong condemnation of the attack.

It was the first attack in the Afghan capital since January 18, when teams of suicide bombers and gunmen targeted government buildings, leaving 12 dead, including seven attackers.