Taliban Attack Kills At Least 17 In Kabul
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
To Kabul now and today's attack on a popular shopping area in the Afghan capital. Taliban militants stormed two guest houses there. After a pair of bomb blasts and several pitched gun battles, at least 16 people were dead. Among them, an Italian man staying at one of the compounds who helped Afghan police pin down the last shooter. It was the second intense multipronged assault on Kabul in five weeks and it shows how vulnerable even the city's most protected neighborhoods have become.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was at our compound in Kabul within earshot of the attacks and has this report.
(Soundbite of gunshots)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: For three terrifying hours on this rainy holiday morning, chaos reigned around Kabul's popular City Center mall. Three heavily-armed militants have slipped past multiple Afghan police checkpoints and entered this shopping hub to carry out suicide attacks. The Taliban says it sent the attackers to kill foreigners on the holiday marking the birthday of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The first militant was a car bomber who nearly leveled a guest house catering to Indian doctors working here.
The force of the explosion blew out the reflective windows at the City Center mall and adjacent Safi Hotel. Asim(ph), the keeper of the nearby city park, who like many Afghans goes by one name, says the sounds made him jump off his bedroll.
Mr. ASIM: (Through translator) The force of the explosion sent everything in the room raining down on top of me. I saw a big fire and ran outside. I screamed at the police not to shoot me and they told me to stay put.
(Soundbite of gunshots)
NELSON: The other two militants, one wearing a suicide vest, attacked a second guest house nearby that also caters to Indian nationals. The bomber detonated his explosives inside while the gunman fired at guests and police in sporadic gunfights that lasted for hours. Some NATO soldiers were called in to help, although Afghan security forces took the lead. Witnesses say some private guards posted at nearby businesses also fired their weapons, adding to the confusion.
In the end, dozens were killed and wounded. Half of the dead were foreigners, six of them Indians. An Italian diplomat and French filmmaker were also killed. At a hastily called press conference following the attacks, police General Abdul Rahman Rahman defended the amount of time it took to get the situation under control.
Mr. ABDUL RAHMAN RAHMAN (Police General): (Through translator): Our goal was to avoid a repeat of past operations when people were killed and wounded in the crossfire. We used antiterrorism specialists who proceeded calmly and deliberately and prevented additional casualties.
NELSON: Rahman, who was on the scene during the attacks, said that police worked hard to get the victims out of harm's way, an effort that cost three officers their lives. But what he and other Afghan officials could not explain is how heavily armed militants once again were able to slip by numerous police checkpoints into the fortified heart of the city.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.