Afghan policemen take their positions atop a military vehicle near the Election Commission’s office during an attack by gunmen in Kabul yesterday.
KABUL: Taliban insurgents wearing burqas unleashed rockets and gunfire on the Afghan election commission’s headquarters in Kabul yesterday, in the latest major assault on the city one week before polling day.
Six hours after the attack began, security forces gunned down the last of the five gunmen who had occupied a nearby building and targeted the heavily-fortified election offices.
“There were five attackers, all of them used burqas as a disguise. They have all been killed,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said. “Two members of special police units were slightly injured.”
Independent Election Commission spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said that its employees were unharmed after many hid for hours in reinforced safe rooms.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack via a recognised Twitter account.
Kabul airport, which is in the same eastern area of the city, was closed for several hours, with planes diverting to Karachi or returning to Delhi as well as other destinations.
“I heard several explosions, and I saw insurgents armed with heavy and light weapons taking up positions in a private building, and they started firing,” one local driver who declined to give his name said.
As tensions rise in Kabul, some restaurants and shops popular with foreigners have shut for the election period due to the risk of attack.
The militant group has vowed to disrupt the vote on April 5, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces in the run-up to polling day.
Male militants have previously used the all-enveloping burqa to disguise themselves and evade security checks in Afghanistan, including in a 2012 attack when four French troops were killed.
The election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, barred constitutionally from seeking a third term, will be Afghanistan’s first-ever democratic handover of power.
But a repeat of the bloodshed that marred the 2004 and 2009 elections would damage claims by international donors that the expensive 13-year US-led intervention has made progress in establishing a functioning Afghan state.
Yesterday’s assault came the day after Taliban attackers raided a Kabul guest house used by a US anti-landmine charity, killing two people. The guest house attack was the fourth this year in Kabul.