Militants kill one in attack on interior ministry in Kabul

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Kabul (AFP)

Militants launched a gun and bomb attack on the interior ministry in Kabul Wednesday, killing a policeman in the latest chilling demonstration of their ability to strike at the heart of the Afghan capital.

The attack during the holy month of Ramadan, claimed by the Islamic State group, was the latest deadly assault by the group in Kabul. Five people were injured.

The Taliban are also stepping up their attacks on the capital, making it the deadliest place in the country for civilians.

Special forces rushed to the scene after the attackers detonated what police said was a car bomb at the first checkpoint leading to the ministry, then tried to battle their way inside.

"The fighting is over, the attackers have all been killed by security forces between the first and second security perimeter," said Kabul police chief Daud Amin.

A security source told AFP a clearing operation was continuing.

"The attackers used two vehicles to reach near interior ministry compound. There were eight attackers involved, one detonated his explosives, seven others were killed," interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told reporters.

"Fortunately, we have no reports of any civilian casualties yet," he said.

Danish said one police officer had been killed and five civilians wounded.

"The situation is under control now," he said, adding there could be more explosions as police detonate suicide vests carried by the attackers.

"I was in my office when I heard a blast followed by gunfire. We were told to stay inside our offices as the compound was attacked," said one ministry employee.

A security source told AFP there had been multiple blasts but could not confirm how many.

The Islamic State group, which is trying to make inroads in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq propaganda service.

Police also said they had found a car stuffed with explosives and guns at Kabul's international airport near the interior ministry on Wednesday.

- Kabul targeted -

Both the Taliban and Islamic State have stepped up their attacks on Kabul. The city accounted for 16 percent of all civilian casualties last year, when 1,831 civilians were killed or wounded nationwide, according to the United Nations.

Among the myriad attacks in the last year were two of the deadliest in the city since the US invasion: a truck bomb on May 31, 2017 that killed more than 150 people, and an ambulance bomb in January 27 this year which killed more than 100.

The UN has warned that 2018 could be even deadlier.

Many fearful residents have restricted their movements as a result, afraid to linger in bazaars or to become trapped in traffic during rush hour, a prime time for attacks.

Last week the Taliban called on Kabul residents to stay away from military and intelligence centres in the capital, saying they planned more assaults as part of their annual spring offensive.

"To avoid civilian casualties and only cause damage to enemy military, we are asking Kabul residents to keep away," said a statement published online.

The Taliban did not define what was meant by "military and intelligence centres".

Such targets are difficult to avoid given that the heavily fortified city is the heart of the country's intelligence, government and military operations and plagued by traffic jams due to ubiquitous checkpoints and barriers.