Suicide bombers attacked in the heart of Kabul on Friday, triggering a series of explosions and gunbattles that killed at least 17 people in an area that’s home to small residential hotels used by foreigners, police and witnesses said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying five suicide bombers conducted the early morning attacks on two buildings used by foreign citizens, while police said the attackers numbered at least three. Police said Indians were among those killed.
Dr. Surbod Sanjiv Paul of India stayed holed up in his bathroom for three hours inside one of the guest houses when it came under attack.
“When I was coming out, I found two or three dead bodies,” Paul said later at a military hospital, where his wounded foot was bandaged. “When firing was going on, the first car bomb exploded and the full roof came on my head.”
The attacks in Kabul came as thousands of U.S., Afghan and NATO soldiers were in their second week of a major offensive against a Taliban stronghold in the town of Marjah in Helmand province. In recent weeks, more than two dozen senior Taliban figures have been detained in Pakistan in recent weeks, suggesting that the attack in the capital could be a way for the militants to show that the insurgency remains potent.
At least 17 people were killed in Friday’s attack and 32 wounded, said Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, head of criminal investigation for the Kabul police. He said three of the dead were police officers and most of the civilians who were killed were Indians.
The targets were two residential hotels. A car bomb flattened the Hamid Guesthouse and assailants also attacked the nearby Park Residence, Sayedzada said. An Associated Press reporter saw police carry seven bodies from the Park Residence.
“I saw foreigners were crying and shouting,” said Najibullah, a 25-year-old hotel worker who ran out into the rain-slickened street when he heard the first explosion.
Najibullah, whose face and hands were covered in blood, said he saw two suicide bombers at the site. “It was a very bad situation inside,” he said. “God helped me, otherwise I would be dead. I saw one suicide bomber blowing himself up.
The explosions woke up residents near the Kabul City Center, a nine-story shopping area that includes the four-star Safi Landmark Hotel. Witnesses said one explosion created a crater about 3 feet (1 meter) wide and that windows of the nearby Safi hotel were blown out.