Taliban strike at heart of Kabul, killing at least 16

Indians believed to be targets, but Italian secret service officer and French film producer also dead / Militants trying to prove they are still a potent force, even as they are overwhelmed in south by Nato troops

With suicide bombs, grenades and gunfire, insurgents struck at the heart of Kabul yesterday, killing at least 16 people in co-ordinated attacks that the Afghan President said were targeted at Indians, but which also claimed the life of a senior member of the Italian secret service and a French film producer.

The targets of the two-hour explosion of violence included two guesthouses used by foreigners and Kabul's first shopping mall. The Taliban boasted that five of its shaheeds, or martyrs, mounted the assault, which started at about 6:30 in the morning when at least one suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a guesthouse frequented by Indian medics. "Our mujaheddin fighters managed to attack in the heart of the Kabul city once again," said a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.

The violence in the Afghan capital, which left nearly 40 people wounded, marked the end of the second week of Operation Moshtarak, with thousands of US, British and Afghan forces trying to rout the Taliban in their stronghold in Helmand province in the south.

Faced with overwhelming Western firepower, the insurgents have largely chosen not to fight in much of the southern battlefront (although US Marines and Afghan troops have been killed). Yesterday's attack in Kabul was seen as an attempt by the Taliban to shift the battlefront elsewhere and show that they still remain a potent force.

Delhi said six Indians were killed in what Foreign Minister SM Krishna called "barbaric attacks ... the handiwork of those who are desperate to undermine the friendship between India and Afghanistan". President Karzai said: "This was a terrorist attack against Indian citizens. Those who are involved and carried out inhumane and un- Islamic attacks on a holy day that is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad are certainly enemies of Islam and Afghanistan."

The insurgents appeared to have targeted the Hamid Guesthouse, which was flattened by a blast, and the nearby Park Residence. They also attempted to get into the Safi Landmark Hotel then took refuge in the basement of the shopping mall.

Surbod Sanjiv Patil, a doctor from India working in a Kabul hospital, said: "We are here offering help and the attack took place in our residential complex, it was no secret that there were Indians living there. I hid in a bathroom at the hotel for three hours when the bombings started. When I was coming out, I found two or three dead bodies." The Indian embassy in Kabul had previously been hit twice by suicide bombers, attacks the government in Delhi has claimed were orc hestrated by the ISI, the Pakistani secret police, which has links with the Taliban and other Islamist groups.

India is one of the biggest aid donors to Afghanistan, and its influence has led to resentment by some in Pakistani politics and military. Talks over Kashmir, that broke off following the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008, finally restarted this week, and diplomats said that yesterday's bombings may have been designed to trigger another collapse in negotiations.

The Frenchman killed was identified as film maker Severin Blanchet, who had trained young Afghans on documentary film making since 2006, the French Foreign Ministry said. The Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi paid tribute to his slain countryman, Pietro Colazzo, inset, left, describing him as "a faithful servant of the state, who died doing his job in a country tormented by horrific terrorist acts".

Government officials said Mr Colazzo was a diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister's office, and the Italian news agency Ansa, said he was the Kabul bureau number two in Italy's foreign intelligence agency, AISE.

Police commander General Abdul Rahman praised Mr Colazzo, saying he died a hero, relaying information about the location of the suicide bombers to officers that helped to save lives, before he was shot dead. "He was killed by the terrorists who realised that he was passing information to police forces," General Rahman said. "He was in a room right behind the attackers and he could see where they were and what they are doing. He was a brave man. He gave us precious information that allowed police to evacuate safely four other Italians."

There have now been seven attacks in the capital in the past six months. The UN pulled most of its senior staff from Afghanistan after nine people were killed in a suicide assault on one of their guesthouses, and other foreign organisations have also begun to scale back their presence.

News of the yesterday's killings immediately led to calls in Rome for the country to withdraw its 3,150 troops from Afghanistan. Senator Francesco Pancho Pardi, of the centre-left Italia dei Valori party said: "Today is a day of mourning and condolences for the victims' families. Tomorrow we must start work on an exit strategy out of Afghanistan as soon as possible."

Pressure on Nato allies supplying troops has already claimed one government. The Dutch ruling coalition collapsed last weekend over a plan to keep the Netherlands' 2,000-strong contingent from going home this year.

Yesterday, Angela Merkel endured a heated debate in the Bundestag, which was disrupted by an anti-war protest. But the German Chancellor won overwhelming parliamentary backing for her plans to send as many as 850 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the maximum number to 5,350.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada