At least 6 dead as blasts, gunfire rock Afghan city

Smoke rising from the site of a blast and gun battle between Afghan security forces and militants in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on May 13, 2018.
Smoke rising from the site of a blast and gun battle between Afghan security forces and militants in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on May 13, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - At least six civilians were killed when militants detonated bombs and stormed a government building on Sunday (May 13) in an ongoing assault in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, officials said.

There were two explosions near the city's directorate of finance, the Nangarhar provincial governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP, adding that "a number of attackers" had entered the building.

"Security forces are in the area chasing and fighting them," he said. "So far six civilians (have been) killed and 33 wounded. One attacker is also down. The clearing operation is ongoing."

Earlier, health department officials in the city said hospitals had received at least four dead bodies and 20 wounded people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Jalalabad is the capital of restive Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan. Some areas of the province are a stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group but Taleban fighters are also active there.

It was the latest deadly violence to strike Afghanistan as militant groups step up attacks and US-backed Afghan forces intensify air strikes and ground offensives.

The assault comes days after suicide bombers and gunmen launched apparently coordinated attacks on two Kabul police stations on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people.

April saw a series of attacks across the country targeting voter registration centres as the country gears up for long-delayed legislative elections due in October.

The Taleban and ISIS have made clear their intentions to disrupt the elections. Officials are concerned that a low voter turnout will undermine the credibility of the poll.

The Taleban recently launched their annual spring offensive, in an apparent rejection of a peace talks overture by the Afghan government.

Their Operation Al Khandaq will target US forces and "their intelligence agents" as well as their "internal supporters", a Taleban statement said on April 25.

But the ISIS group has also stepped up its attacks in recent months, particularly in Kabul.

Nine journalists, including AFP's chief photographer in Kabul Shah Marai, were among the 25 people killed in a double suicide blast claimed by ISIS in the capital on April 30.

Kabul has become one of the deadliest places in the country for civilians as security forces struggle to keep the militants at bay following the withdrawal of Nato combat forces at the end of 2014.