At least six people have been killed in a suicide bombing near the entrance of the Russian embassy in Kabul, the Russian foreign ministry and Afghan officials have said following the rare attack on a foreign diplomatic mission in the Afghan capital.
The dead include two employees of the embassy, the Russian foreign ministry said on Monday, adding that an “unknown militant” set off an explosive device near the entrance to the consular section of the embassy at 10:50am (06:20 GMT).
“As a result of the attack, two employees of the diplomatic mission were killed, and there are also victims among Afghan citizens,” the ministry said. It did not offer any details as to who the staff members were or how they died.
The four others killed were Afghan civilians, Khalid Zadran, a Kabul police spokesman said.
Police said the attacker was shot dead by armed guards as he approached the embassy gate in Darul Aman area in southwest of Kabul.
“The suicide attacker, before reaching the target, was recognised and shot by Russian embassy [Taliban] guards,” Mawlawi Sabir, the head of the police district where the attack took place, told the Reuters news agency.
It was not immediately clear if the attacker was able to set off the blast before being shot, or if the gunfire detonated the explosives.
Security sources in Afghanistan say a suicide attack near Russia’s embassy in Kabul has killed at least 8 people ⤵️
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 5, 2022
ISIL claims responsibility
The ISIL (ISIS) group claimed responsibility for the attack late on Monday. An ISIL fighter “blew up his suicide vest in a gathering attended by Russian employees” near the embassy, the group said in a statement via Telegram channels.
It was the latest in a series of bombings, many of them claimed by ISIL, that has largely targeted Taliban positions or mosques of minority groups, particularly Shia Muslims.
Monday’s bombing, however, appeared to be the first to target a foreign diplomatic mission in Kabul since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking to journalists in Moscow, slammed the attack as “absolutely unacceptable”.
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry confirmed the death of two embassy staff.
“It [blast] actually happened close to the embassy where there was a crowd of people gathered to apply for the Russian visa,” Kabul-based journalist Najib Lalzoy told Al Jazeera.
UN condemns attack
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly” condemned the attack and expressed his condolences to the victims and their families in a statement.
The UN mission in Afghanistan also condemned the bombing.
“UNAMA stresses the need for the de facto authorities to take steps to ensure the safety and security of the people as well as diplomatic missions,” it tweeted.
Violence in Afghanistan has largely declined since the Taliban returned to power, but several bomb blasts attributed to ISIL-affiliate have rocked the country in recent months.
The spokesman for the foreign ministry in Afghanistan said Taliban forces would take serious steps towards securing embassies operating in the country.
“[The government] has a close relationship with Russia; we will never let such negative actions of enemies have a negative impact on the relationship,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi said in a statement.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the embassy enhanced its security after the attack and additional Taliban authorities, including intelligence agents, were brought in.
“Let’s hope that the organisers of this terrorist act and its perpetrators will be punished,” Lavrov said.
Russia is one of the few countries to have maintained an embassy in Kabul after the Taliban took over the country more than a year ago.
Although Moscow does not officially recognise the Taliban’s government, it has been in talks with officials over an agreement to supply petrol and other commodities.
Journalist Lalzoy said the “unexpected” suicide attack targeted the civilians.
“It is very unexpected because the security officials of Kabul believe the security around Kabul is very tight. And places like embassies are well-protected,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Secondly, the explosion happened where the Afghans were gathered. It seems the target was to just kill innocent people.”