Blast in Kabul near restaurant popular with foreigners: police

KABUL (AFP) - A large explosion believed to be a suicide blast rocked Kabul on Friday evening, close to a restaurant frequented by foreigners and in a district housing several embassies, though there were no immediate details on casualties.

Police said the explosion happened near the Taverna du Liban Lebanese restaurant in the Kabul neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan. Security forces rushed to the scene and sporadic gunfire was heard for a short time after the blast.

"There has been an explosion near the Lebanese restaurant in Wazir Akbar Khan, and gun shots have also been fired," Sayed Gul Agha Hashemi, head of Kabul police's criminal branch, told AFP.

The Taverna is a regular dining spot for diplomats, aid workers and Afghans, and is likely to have been busy with customers on Friday, the weekly holiday in Afghanistan.

"There has been an explosion most possibly caused by a suicide attack," Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP.

The Afghan capital has often been hit by suicide and bomb attacks, with the most recent incident last Sunday when a Taliban suicide bomber riding a bicycle detonated himself next to a police bus, killing a policeman and a civilian.

Afghanistan's intelligence agency has claimed to have foiled several plots in the capital involving truck bombs and suicide gunmen over the last year.

A series of attacks in 2013 targeted foreign compounds, the Supreme Court, the airport and the presidential palace in Kabul.

NATO forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, but negotiations have stalled on a security accord that would allow some US and NATO troops to stay after 2014.

Afghanistan's fledgling security forces face a difficult year in 2014 as insurgents attempt to disrupt elections on April 5 that will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, and as NATO's combat mission winds down by December.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.