KABUL • A powerful Taleban suicide bombing followed by a fierce gunfight in central Kabul yesterday left at least 28 people dead and more than 320 wounded, officials said.
Hours later, another large explosion was heard in the city. Sirens could be heard but it was not immediately clear what had caused the blast or whether there were any casualties.
Taleban insurgents, who last week launched their annual spring offensive, claimed responsibility for the first bombing during the morning rush hour. It sent clouds of acrid smoke billowing in the sky and rattled windows in the nearby business district.
Police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said civilians and members of the Afghan security forces were among the dead and wounded. Health Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kawoosi said many of the wounded were in serious condition.
The coordinated attack began with the detonation of a massive car bomb outside the main gate of the security agency that provides personal protection to high-ranking Afghan government officials, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Bloomberg.
A gun battle ensued as at least two militants entered the compound and engaged with security personnel inside, he added.
The brazen assault was the first major attack in the Afghan capital since the Taleban declared the start of this year's fighting season last Tuesday. It was also the biggest blast since a truck bombing wounded 240 people last August.
The Afghan Interior Ministry denounced yesterday's attack as a "war crime" and pledged to track down the perpetrators.
Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that its fighters managed to enter the offices of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency. But Afghan officials have denied such claims. The Islamist group often exaggerates details of attacks against government and military targets.
A security source told Xinhua: "The obvious target of the attack was a compound jointly run by an NDS sub-office and the Government VIP Protection Directorate of the Presidential Palace."
The building is near a big mosque, a sports stadium and several government buildings, the source added.
President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack as "cowardly" in a statement from the Presidential Palace, only a few hundred metres from the scene of the blast.
He added that the Taleban would never weaken the will and determination of the Afghan people.
The Taleban has warned of "large-scale attacks on enemy positions across the country" in the current offensive, dubbed Operation Omari in honour of the movement's late founder Mullah Omar, whose death was announced last year.
Kabul has been seeking to bring the Taleban back to the negotiation table to end the drawn-out conflict, since peace talks that took place last summer were abruptly halted.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, XINHUA