Terrified Afghan Justice Ministry employees leaped out of fourth-floor windows or barricaded themselves in their offices after Taliban attackers stormed the building yesterday, witnesses said.
At least four gunmen burst into the ministry in the city center just across from the compound of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as others struck the Prisons Directorate and Education Ministry in near-simultaneous attacks.
The attacks — claimed by the insurgent Taliban movement — left 26 people dead and 55 wounded, the Health Ministry said. The Defense Ministry said eight attackers had also been killed.
“I saw several wounded people jumping out of the ministry building, two of them from the fourth floor and several from other floors,” passerby Omid Hamdard said outside the Justice Ministry.
“They did not die. They were taken by ambulances. I captured the scene on my cellphone,” he said.
Hundreds of security forces — ranging from US special forces to Afghan police and soldiers — descended on the building soon after bursts of gunfire signaled the start of the attacks.
Exchanges of fire could be heard from inside for about two hours as commando forces launched an assault, scaling the building with ladders to try to enter the four-story building from the roof.
Men and women fled — some clutching children who had likely been in a ministry creche.
“I saw several of them just jumping out of the building,” ministry cook Juma Khan said.
“Two of them jumped out of the fourth floor,” Khan said.
Justice Minister Sarwar Danish was holed up in the building throughout and was later escorted out by security forces. A Western diplomat was also seen being evacuated.
Employee Mujeebul Rehman was in his office next door to the minister’s.
“We were locked in our rooms for one-and-a-half hours. Then the security forces came and asked us to come out,” he said.
Officials at the Prisons Directorate in the north of the city were reeling after two suicide bombers tried to enter their offices.
A witness said one bomber blew himself up at the entrance gate after shooting dead a policeman and the other detonated his device at one of the building’s doors, officials said.
The interior ministry said four or five civilians were killed.
At the education ministry, about 1km from the Justice Ministry, security officers killed another suicide bomber, officials said. His explosives detonated but did not kill anyone.