Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan security officer patrols outside the shattered Park Residence guesthouse in the Shahre Naw area in the heart of Kabul.
An Afghan security officer patrols outside the shattered Park Residence guesthouse in the Shahre Naw area in the heart of Kabul. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
Suicide and car bomb blasts ripped through a pair of guesthouses used by foreigners in Afghanistan's capital early Friday, killing at least 17 people — attacks that may have been intended to demonstrate that the group is still viable after the recent loss of several top leaders.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the assault in Kabul's popular Shahre Naw shopping district, which took place while many people were still asleep on a major Islamic holiday marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan firemen gather to inspect the debris at the site of a blast in the heart of the capital, Kabul, on Friday. The Taliban have taken responsibility for the attack.
Afghan firemen gather to inspect the debris at the site of a blast in the heart of the capital, Kabul, on Friday. The Taliban have taken responsibility for the attack. Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was staying at a nearby hotel, where she was shaken from sleep.
"At about 6:40 this morning, there was a large explosion, and we could see the plume of smoke from our compound. Right afterward, gunfire erupted," Nelson reported.
She said the first explosion, a car bomb, detonated in front of a guesthouse used by Indian nationals, leveling it and blowing out windows in a nearby hotel and mall.
Shortly after, a militant wearing a vest with explosives and a gunman struck a second, Indian guesthouse nearby. The bomber detonated and the last militant exchanged gunfire with police for more than two hours before he was killed.
At least 17 people were killed and 32 wounded, said Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, head of criminal investigation for the Kabul police. He said three Afghan policemen were killed and that most of the dead were Indians. An Italian national staying at the second guesthouse was killed while trying to help police find the gunman.
A Taliban spokesman said five suicide bombers carried out the four-hour assault.
Nelson said the attacks may have been meant to show the Taliban insurgency is still "alive and functioning" even though more than two dozen senior and mid-level militia figures have been killed or captured in neighboring Pakistan in recent weeks.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said officials will conduct a thorough investigation.
"Today's suicide attack took place in our residential complex," Dr. Surbod Sanjiv Paul of India said at a military hospital, where his wounded foot was bandaged.
Paul said he was holed up in his bathroom for three hours inside one of the small hotels when it came under attack. "When I was coming out, I found two or three dead bodies. When firing was going on, the first car bomb exploded and the full roof came on my head," he said.
The attacks in Kabul came as thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops entered the second week of a major offensive in the town of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. NATO said one service member was killed Friday by a roadside bomb, bringing to 14 the number of troops who have died in the operation in Helmand province.
NPR's Scott Neuman and The Associated Press contributed to the report