Eight people were killed as a wave of suicide explosions rocked a British cultural center in Kabul yesterday, a public holiday marking Afghanistan’s independence from Britain in 1919.
Six blasts, claimed by the Taliban, struck the British Council offices in Kabul amid bursts of heavy gunfire that began at about 5:45am and continued for more than eight hours. A fresh explosion hit the area at 10am.
The British Council is an official organization part-funded by London that promotes cultural relations in offices around the world.
Police said at least the first two blasts were the work of suicide bombers.
“Eight people, mostly police, are killed and 10 others injured,” interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui said.
Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai earlier said the dead included two policemen and two street cleaners who were working nearby when the attackers struck.
The British embassy and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan confirmed that the target was the British Council.
“I condemn this despicable attack on the British Council building in Kabul earlier today,” British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said in London.
“I can confirm that all British nationals affected are now safe. It is due to the presence of mind of the staff involved and our good security measures that no British nationals were hurt,” he said.
Shortly before 2:30pm, British Ambassador to Kabul William Patey said all insurgents involved in an attack had been killed.
He said some of those inside the compound had hidden in a safe room, including a South African who worked there and a British security guard.
A photographer at the scene saw British, US and French forces there, while a reporter witnessed two large ISAF armored vehicles arriving as helicopters circled.
It was not immediately clear if the helicopters were Afghan or foreign.
An ISAF spokesman, Captain Justin Brockhoff, said the force had sent a “limited number” of troops to the scene.
“We have a very small contribution to the Afghan-led response,” he said. Afghan security forces are in overall control of security in Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the militant group was responsible for the attack, which he said was to mark the nation’s independence day.
He said the attackers’ target was the British Council and a UN guest house. However, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Dan McNorton, denied any of its sites was involved.
“Taliban mujahidin stormed these two compounds and heavy fighting is going on with the Afghan police,” Mujahid said. “Today is our independence day from Britain. They recognized our independence 92 years ago — today’s attack was marking that day. Now the British have invaded our country again and they will recognize our independence day again.”
Britain is the second-largest provider of troops to the international military effort fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan after the US, with around 9,500 forces mainly in the south.
At the scene was the burning wreckage of a car that had rammed into the wall of the British Council compound and exploded. Ambulances and the emergency services shuttled back and forth rescuing injured people.
“I was asleep when the sound of a heavy explosion woke me up,” said eyewitness Mohammad Aber, who lives across the road from the building. “I went to the roof. I saw a car was on fire, and there was suddenly a second explosion, then the shooting started.”