Death toll rises to 43 in Afghanistan attack

Afghan police officers standing guard outside the government compound in Kabul, after Monday's attack, the first major violent assault in the capital since last month, when a terrorist bomber killed more than 50 people in a hotel.
Afghan police officers standing guard outside the government compound in Kabul, after Monday's attack, the first major violent assault in the capital since last month, when a terrorist bomber killed more than 50 people in a hotel.PHOTO: REUTERS

More casualties likely after strike by suicide bomber and extremists with assault rifles

KABUL • The Afghan authorities collected 43 bodies on Tuesday from a government compound in the capital city of Kabul that was targeted by a suicide bomber and extremists armed with assault rifles on Monday, officials said.

The attack began when the suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden car in front of a government building that houses a public welfare department in an eastern neighbourhood of Kabul.

Scores of government workers were trapped inside their offices in a densely populated area of the Afghan capital during a 10-hour firefight, punctuated by a series of blasts, and government troops did not manage to kill the last assailant until just before dawn on Tuesday.

One policeman was killed and three militants were gunned down during the fighting.

"The toll may go up as we are still evacuating casualties," public health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh said. Scores of people were wounded in the attack.

Mr Majroh said most of the victims were employees of the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry for Martyrs and Disabled People, which provides services to thousands of war veterans and others affected by conflict.

No armed group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the first major violent assault in the capital since last month, when a terrorist bomber killed more than 50 people in a hotel.

Taleban insurgents denied any involvement in the Monday attack, which began with a car bomb outside one ministry. Then, a group of gunmen burst into both buildings and roamed among the offices, trapping more than 350 employees.

"They breached the armoured door with a rocket," Mr Abdul Jalil, a survivor, told ToloNews TV. "I was hiding in the balcony. Two men entered our office... and they set the office on fire."

Television images showed burnt offices with broken computers, and a childcare centre in one ministry reportedly came under fire.

"Attackers appeared from downstairs and were shooting at anyone they saw," Mr Abdul Aziz, a survivor with a bullet wound in his shoulder, told ToloNews.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said government troops had to act with caution to avoid risking the lives of those trapped or living near the buildings.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan strongly condemned the attack, saying it had caused "untold human suffering to Afghan families... There is no justification whatsoever for such attacks."

Although the Taleban denied any involvement in the attack, the government's chief executive, Mr Abdullah Abdullah, blamed the group.

"The Taleban crime syndicate must know that with every attack they carry out against our people, our resolve is further strengthened to eliminate them," Mr Abdullah tweeted. "Their conduct is a disgrace to the very notion of peace."

The Taleban has been participating in the early stages of peace talks with United States officials and other foreign representatives, although the group has refused to meet Afghan officials directly.

The attack came just days after US President Donald Trump said he was considering pulling out as many as half of the 14,000 US troops serving in Afghanistan. The news stunned the Afghan government, and experts said it could undermine peace talks.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2018, with the headline 'Death toll rises to 43 in Afghanistan attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe