A suicide bomber on a bicycle killed nine people near the main entrance gate to the heavily-guarded Afghan Defence Ministry, in central Kabul, on Saturday, during a visit to the capital by new U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Taliban militants immediately claimed the attack was timed to send a message to Mr. Hagel, who arrived in Kabul late on Friday.

Mr. Hagel was at a U.S. facility in the city less than a mile from the attack but reporters travelling with him were informed that he was not under any threat.

Mr. Hagel arrived in Kabul as NATO prepares to pull out its troops — one lakh in number — by the end of 2014 and leave Afghan security forces to battle the Taliban insurgency.— AFP