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
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all