Taliban Attack Kills At Least 17 In Kabul

Taliban militants stage another brazen attack, including a suicide bombing in the heart of Kabul on Friday, leaving at least 17 dead and many more wounded. The attackers targeted a hotel complex where many Indian doctors and aid workers stay. After the bombing, the militants battled government forces for several hours before order was restored.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

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.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Taliban Claims Responsibility For Kabul Attacks

An Afghan security officer patrols outside the shattered Park Residence guesthouse in Kabul. i i

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 hide caption

itoggle caption Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan security officer patrols outside the shattered Park Residence guesthouse in 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.

Afghan firemen gather to inspect the debris at the site of a blast in the heart of the capital. i i

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 hide caption

itoggle caption Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan firemen gather to inspect the debris at the site of a blast in the heart of the capital.

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.

Heard On 'Morning Edition':

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

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.