Gunmen storm Kabul government compound, gun battle ensues

Gunmen who raided a government building in the Afghan capital have killed at least 28 people – mostly government employees – in a seven-hour standoff with security forces that ended on Monday night, Afghan authorities said.

More than 20 others were wounded in the latest round of bloody violence to strike Kabul.

Others killed included a policeman and three of the attackers who were shot dead by Afghan security forces, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.

The attack began in the afternoon when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a car outside the public works ministry. Gunmen then stormed the building of the National Authority for Disabled People and Martyrs’ Families, taking civilians hostage as they fought a gun battle against Afghan soldiers.

Afghan security forces went from floor to floor of the building in an operation to rescue over 350 people inside, but had to exercise restraint in their operations against the attackers given the number of employees there, a senior security official said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ambulances raced to the scene during a lull in the shooting, a witness who lives nearby told Reuters. At least 20 people wounded in the clashes were taken to hospital.

An official working in another government building close by said employees had locked themselves in their offices after hearing the explosions and gunfire. During the standoff, the building’s second floor caught fire, local news channels reported.

Flames rise from a government building after an explosion and attack by gunmen [Rahmat Gul/AP Photo]

The raid capped a tumultuous few days in Afghanistan where officials are reeling from US President Donald Trump’s plan to slash troop numbers, which many fear could harm efforts to end the 17-year war with the Taliban.

On Thursday, an official said the US president was planning to withdraw at least 5,000 of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

The US intervened in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban from power in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

The assault also comes a day after President Ashraf Ghani appointed Amrullah Saleh and Assadullah Khaled, both former spymasters known for their anti-Taliban and Pakistan stance, to head the interior and defence ministries, respectively.

Numerous explosions heard

Mushtaq Rahim, a security analyst based in Kabul, told Al Jazeera that he had passed by the area a few minutes after the attack took place.

“The blast took place just before staff left their offices for the day,” he said. “There’s a lot of smoke coming out of the area. A fire had broken out in the building where the ministry is placed.”

Several apartment buildings and a government public works department building are located in the same area of the eastern Kabul neighbourhood where the attack took place.

One of the wounded civilians broke several bones after jumping from the third floor of a building to escape the attackers, an AFP correspondent at a hospital said.

Plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from the compound, with at least two military helicopters circling above.

Journalists near the scene reported hearing numerous explosions in the hours after the attack began mid-afternoon.

Monday’s attack was the biggest in Kabul since November 28 when the Talibandetonated a vehicle bomb outside the compound of British security firm G4S, killing at least 10 people and leaving a massive crater in the road.

A member of Afghan security force takes position at the site of an attack [Omar Sobhani/Reuters]

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