The US government warned its citizens to keep a low profile yesterday after a car bomb hit a private US security firm in the Afghan capital, killing at least seven people, including two Americans.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack on the office of Dyncorp Inc., which provides bodyguards for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and works for the US government in Iraq.
Security officials have issued several warnings in recent weeks that anti-government militants could ramp up attacks to disrupt its landmark presidential election.
The blast came hours after another explosion killed at least nine people, eight of them children, at a school in southeastern Afghanistan, underlining the country's fragile security as it moves toward the Oct. 9 vote.
Yesterday, the US Embassy e-mailed Americans in Kabul to tell them to limit their movements, take strict security measures and avoid "potential target areas" such as government offices, NATO bases and restaurants.
Mullah Hakim Latifi, a man who claims to speak for the Taliban, said one of its members carried out the Kabul attack with a time-bomb loaded in a vehicle, and warned that more would follow.
"Taliban began trying to place a bomb in this area three days ago, and finally they have succeeded," Latifi told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.
"We appeal to civilians to stay away from the elections and places where the Americans and coalition are living and working," he said. "They are our priority targets."
His claim could not be verified independently.
Haji Ikramuddin, the chief of police in the downtown Shar-e-Naw district where the blast occurred, said no one had been arrested and that "American professionals" were combing the site of the bombing.
Police and NATO troops were preventing anyone from approaching the area. Shopkeepers swept up glass from windows blown out by the heavy explosion.
Karzai's office said in a statement late Sunday that "two Americans, three Nepalese and two Afghan nationals" were confirmed dead. None were named.
Witnesses said several others, including Afghans and foreigners, were taken away with serious injuries. Neither police, the US Embassy or the Afghan Health Ministry had any word yesterday on whether the toll had risen overnight.
Karzai and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad expressed shock at the bombing against the contractor, which had been helping train Afghanistan's new national police.