Afghan security forces have battled two gunmen who stormed a government building in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, taking dozens of people hostage.
The siege on Tuesday at the refugees and repatriations directorate compound, which began after a suicide bomber detonated explosives at the building’s entrance, lasted for several hours, during which intermittent gunfire and blasts could be heard.
Spokesman Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the government of Nangarhar province, said the incident appeared to be over with two gunmen killed and much of the building destroyed.
He said at least 15 people had been killed and 15 wounded although the total may rise as rescue workers search the site. Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the local provincial council, said eight had been killed and as many as 30 wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“Around 11am local time, a car laden with explosives, drove up to this compound, two gunmen jumped out and then they set off the first of several explosions, then Afghan Special Forces arrived and a gun battle ensued for the following six hours,” said Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.
She added that the targeted building is in a “very sensitive area, with the United Nations compound next door and a large hospital on the other side”.
According to one witness, a passer-by named Obaidullah, the attack began when a black car with three occupants pulled up at the entrance to a building used by the department of refugee affairs, and a gunman got out firing around him.
One attacker blew himself up at the gate and two gunmen entered the building, which is in an area close to shops and government offices, Obaidullah told Reuters news agency.
Minutes later, the car exploded, wounding people in the street, he said.
“We saw several people wounded and helped to carry them away.”
Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the local provincial council, said around 40 people appeared to be caught inside the building, which caught fire in the initial stages of the attack.
One hostage had called the security services and told them that the attackers had ordered the people inside not to move, he said.
Khogyani said the attack happened during a meeting with NGOs working on refugee-related issues. The head of the directorate and several other people were taken to safety, he said.
The attack is the latest in a series of attacks that hit Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, in recent weeks, killing and wounding dozens of people.
On Saturday, a series of explosions went off in the city before attackers rushed a medical training centre for midwives. A gun battle that lasted for nearly six hours ensued, in which two people were killed.
On Monday, Nangarhar provincial health officials said that in the past three months at least 160 people have been killed and more than 490 wounded in attacks on the province.
Separately, a roadside bomb hit a Kabul-bound passenger bus in western Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 37 others, including many women and children, officials said.
“The attack took place very early this morning, the bus with dozens of people on board drove over a roadside bomb,” Bellis said.
“The government is blaming the attack on the Taliban,” she added.
The wounded are being treated in a hospital in Herat province.
There was no immediate confirmation that the Taliban was responsible for the blast.
The explosion took place as the bus travelled through Bala Baluk district of Farah at 4:30am (00:00 GMT), provincial governor spokesman Naser Mehri told AFP.
Photos posted on social media – purportedly of the bus – showed the vehicle’s blackened shell and dozens of men standing at the scene.
The Taliban has a heavy presence in Farah. It launched a major attempt to take over the provincial capital in May, triggering intense fighting with US and Afghan forces.
After a day-long battle, Taliban fighters were forced to the outskirts of the city.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), such as remotely detonated or pressure-plate bombs, are one of the main causes of casualties.
Such IEDs caused 877 civilian casualties in the first half of 2018 – 232 deaths and 645 injuries – accounting for 17 percent of overall casualties.