The ISIS terrorist group claimed responsibility for an attack near the Iraqi embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday.
A security source told AFP that a suicide bomber had blown himself up outside the Iraqi embassy. “Civilians are being evacuated” from the area as the attack is ongoing, said the official, who declined to be named.
“Our forces are inside and a clearance operation is underway,” said Afghan interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish, adding that embassy personnel were safe, although embassy guards and nearby civilians might have suffered casualties.
There were conflicting reports of casualties as the attack unfolded, with a witness at the scene saying he saw bodies of at least two policemen lying on the road outside the embassy soon after the attack began.
A series of explosions and the sound of gunfire shook the capital in a continuing assault, which lasted four hours.
At least four explosions, along with the sounds of gunfire and grenades, were heard near the city’s diplomatic quarter shortly after 11:00 am (0630 GMT).
Security forces rapidly descended on the area and the sirens of ambulances rushing to the scene could also be heard. A column of smoke rose from the blast site. Police confirmed at least one blast but said they did not immediately have further information.
ISIS’s propaganda agency Amaq said two attackers had blown up the gate, killing seven guards, and two fighters had broken into the compound. Danish put the number of gunmen in the building at three. The terrorist group often exaggerates its claims on the number of casualties inflicted.
“The explosion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman crying near the site of the attack said. She said she works at the nearby office of Afghanistan’s National Airline Ariana.
“I heard a big blast followed by several explosions and small gunfire,” said Ahmad Ali, a nearby shopkeeper.
“People were worried and closed their shops to run for safety. The roads are still blocked by security forces.”
The Iraq embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.
By comparison, the Iraqi embassy is located on a small street in a neighborhood dominated by markets and businesses.
After Iraqi forces, backed by a US-led coalition, recaptured the city of Mosul from ISIS earlier in July, the Iraq embassy had called reporters to its offices in Kabul to express concerns that the local ISIS affiliate might stage large-scale attacks elsewhere to draw away attention from the terror group’s losses in Iraq.
The group has been expanding its footprint in eastern Afghanistan and claimed responsibility for several devastating attacks in Kabul.
Monday’s attack is the latest to rock Kabul, and comes as the resurgent Taliban intensify their offensive across the country.
Last week, at least 35 people were killed in a Taliban suicide attack on government workers in Kabul and underlines the precarious security in Afghanistan as the US administration considers an overhaul of its policy in the region.
The US is considering whether to send thousands more troops to help the beleaguered Afghan forces as the war-weary country is gripped by increasing insecurity.