Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked an election commission office near the home of Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani in the capital Kabul on Tuesday, engaging in a protracted gun battle with security forces.
Kabul has been placed on high alert ahead of an April 5 presidential election, which the Taliban have threatened to derail through a campaign of bombings and assassinations.
More than three hours after the initial explosions, there were reports that sporadic gunfire could still be heard in the area, which had been cordoned off by police.
Ghani, a former World Bank official, was not at home at the time of the attack, for which the Taliban took responsibility.
The election is intended to mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power. Despite the fact that President Hamid Karzai has been barred from running for another term after 12 years in power, he is widely expected to retain his influence.
Police initially said militants had attacked Ghani’s house, but the presidential candidate’s campaign aide later said the assault targeted an adjacent building housing a provincial election office.
“The attack was on an election office next to Dr Ashraf Ghani’s house. His house was also hit by the attackers. He is not at home but his family is there,” said the aide.
The interior ministry said there were two blasts followed by gunfire. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
“Only one of the attackers is still resisting from the top floor (of the election commission building) but others have been killed,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Ghani, in a Twitter post after the attack, said that he had just arrived in Gardez, a volatile area just south of Kabul, for a rally.
“Terrorists cannot deter us from our cause with their cowardly attacks. My family is safe. Thank you to those of you who prayed for us,” he later added.
The Taliban said in a statement their suicide bombers had entered the adjacent building and blown themselves up.
“A number of suicide bombers attacked an important election centre at the heart of Kabul,” the movement said.
“The attack started with a very heavy explosion and then a number of people entered with heavy and light weapons.”
In a separate incident also on Tuesday, three suicide bombers entered a branch of Kabulbank, one of Afghanistan’s biggest banks, in the eastern province of Kunar, killing at least three security guards and injuring two bank workers, police said.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-25