Suicide bombers and fighters attacked the communications ministry in the centre of Afghanistan‘s capital, Kabul, killing two people in an hours-long assault that destroyed weeks of relative calm.
Saturday’s attack began shortly before midday with an explosion at the entrance to the 18-storey building housing the ministry in a busy commercial area of the city, followed by gunfire that could be heard over a kilometre away.
“As a result of today’s explosion/attack in Kabul city, two people have been [killed] and six others are wounded,” said Wahidullah Mayar, the health ministry spokesman, adding three of the injured were women.
The Taliban said it had “nothing to do” with the attack, which left some 2,000 people stranded for hours at the start of the Afghan work week.
No other group claimed responsibility.
Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis said: “The explosion was close to the Serena Hotel, where a lot of foreign diplomats and journalists live.”
Nasart Rahimi, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said the security operation ended “after all attackers were shot and killed by Afghan security forces”.
Panicked workers inside the building, believed to be Kabul’s tallest, moved up to the top floor as gunmen and Afghan security officials battled lower down.
One woman said she had been in a group of about 30 people on the 10th floor when the assault started, then was told to move up to the 18th floor as gunfire increased. They were all eventually rescued by commandos.
The attack followed several months of relative calm in Kabul, which coincided with talks between the United States and Taliban officials aimed at opening the way for formal peace negotiations to end more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
The attack, just days after a planned meeting between Taliban officials and Afghan politicians and civil society representatives in Qatar‘s capital Doha was cancelled, underlined the hurdles facing efforts to reach a peace settlement.
However, while heavy fighting continues across Afghanistan and Taliban fighters have announced their now-customary spring offensive, there have been no large-scale attacks on civilian targets in Kabul in recent weeks.