Taliban storm Kabul with wave of suicide bombings

Twelve dead and scores injured as militants target shopping centres and cinema in bid to derail swearing-in of government

Fighting raged across downtown Kabul yesterday after a group of Taliban militants equipped with suicide vests and automatic weapons attacked major buildings in the city centre, including the presidential palace, in one of their most ambitious assaults.

Two civilians and three security personnel were killed and 71 others, half of them civilians, were wounded in a series of blasts and gun battles in the most secure area of Afghanistan's capital city. The government claimed to have killed seven Taliban fighters.

The brazen attacks came as President Hamid Karzai was swearing in his new cabinet ministers inside the palace. The insurgents had slipped into the city centre in Western clothes to carry out co-ordinated attacks on multiple high-profile targets. They had access to plentiful arms and ammunition and appeared to be receiving directions from outside.

The sophisticated level of planning behind the violence drew comparison with the terror attacks carried out in Mumbai in 2008 and, even as the dead and injured were being carried away and the emergency services struggled to bring spreading fires under control, Afghan officials, like their Indian counterparts, were blaming the Pakistani secret police, the ISI, as the hidden hand behind the mayhem.

Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the Afghan interior minister, said the attack had been planned outside the country. "We don't have training centres for suicide bombers in Afghanistan," he said. He added that the initial investigation revealed that "some of the bombers were not Afghans". Islamabad denied any involvement in the attacks.

Whatever the truth or otherwise of the allegation, yesterday's raid will be a source of acute embarrassment for Karzai and his Western sponsors. The insurgents showed that they could strike in the heavily guarded heart of Kabul, an area of ministries and foreign missions. The attack took place 10 days before the London summit on Afghanistan, which is intended to set out future international strategy towards the country.

The co-ordinated attacks began during rush hour on Monday morning when a suicide bomber, who had strapped explosives around his body, detonated himself in front of the Central Bank and the southern gate of the presidential palace, the Afghan defence minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, told reporters.

Five minutes later, a group of three bombers entered the Foroushgah Buzerg-e-Afghan shopping complex, tossing hand grenades at shopkeepers and their customers. The militants took up positions on the top of the five-storey building, from where they began firing at the Serena Hotel and the ministries of justice and finance.

At least one rocket-propelled grenade round landed in the five-star hotel, but did not cause any casualties because the guests were sheltering in the hotel's bunker. While the security forces were trying to advance towards the occupied shopping mall, another bomber driving an explosive-laden ambulance was stopped by security forces as he was trying to enter the cordoned-off area.

"Fortunately our security forces identified the bomber and there were no casualties among our forces when he detonated the vehicle," Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, said. But the blast engulfed a new shopping centre close to the foreign ministry and wounded at least two local reporters and several passers-by, witnesses said.

The four-hour standoff eventually ended when government forces killed the militants in the shopping mall along with two more bombers, who had barricaded themselves inside a nearby cinema building.

Afghan security chiefs insisted that only seven militants managed to breach the city's security belt and they were all killed. But Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, said that as many as 20 of the group's fighters and suicide bombers had taken part in yesterday's assault.

"[The] attack was a strong message to the foreign troops and to the Westerners that we can attack anywhere at any time," Mr Mujahid said. "Today we showed that you can not dismantle the Taliban by increasing your forces."

More than 110,000 international troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan. As part of President Obama's military surge, 30,000 additional US and 6,800 extra N ato forces are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan in the summer to try to turn the tide against the Taliban militants who have become more powerful than ever.

Although Kabul, the most stable city in the country, has experienced a number of attacks by Taliban in the past, yesterday's was the most brazen since the ousting of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Kabul, unlike Baghdad at the height of the Iraq conflict, had been relatively safe in the past, with the Afghan intelligence service, the NDS, keeping a relatively successful check on infiltration into the city.

However, the insurgents have been able to inflict a number of blows on the NDS recently. One of the most damaging was the assassination of Abdullah Laghmani, the organisation's highly influential deputy chief, who was killed in a suicide bombing last September.

Mr Laghmani was a Pashtun in the Tajik-dominated NDS and had built up a network for gathering information from the Pashtun community which provides the recruiting pool for the Taliban.

The attack which claimed his life, appeared to have been organised with the aid of inside information, leading to fears that the Taliban had infiltrated the intelligence service. Mr Laghmani's death was followed in October by the storming of a UN guesthouse in Kabul which killed six staff members and prompted the organisation to evacuate more than half of its international workers from the country.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk