ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on Afghanistan’s largest military hospital in the capital Kabul on Wednesday in which gunmen dressed as doctors stormed the facility and battled security forces inside the building for several hours.
The attack began when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the rear of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital and three attackers with automatic weapons and hand grenades entered the complex, security officials said.
The gunmen, dressed as medical personnel, had taken position on upper floors of the hospital and engaged special forces sent to the scene, officials said.
Security forces blocked off the area around the hospital, near a busy traffic intersection and special forces soldiers descended on to the roof of the main building from helicopters.
As fighting went on, a second explosion was heard from inside.
“Our forces are there and there is heavy fighting,” said defense ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri. He said one attacker had been killed and another two were holding out, while one soldier had been killed and three wounded.
A spokesman for the public health ministry said at least three dead and more than 60 wounded had been taken to other hospitals.
“Attackers are inside the hospital. Pray for us,” a hospital staff member wrote on Facebook.
“I saw one of the attackers, armed with an AK-47 and dressed as doctor, shooting at patients and guards on the third floor,” hospital nurse Abdul Qadeer told AFP.
“They shot my friend but I managed to flee… I had to jump over the barbed wire to escape.”
A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility, saying the movement had “no connection” with the attack.
A statement from ISIS’ Amaq News Agency said its militants had attacked the hospital. The group has mounted several high-profile attacks on civilian targets in Kabul over the past year.
President Ashraf Ghani said the attack “trampled on all human values”.
“In all religions, a hospital is regarded as an immune site and attacking it is attacking the whole of Afghanistan,” he added.
“This is a criminal act. Nothing can justify an attack on hospitals,” Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said of the latest attack.
“We will never forgive these criminals. Unfortunately, this attack has resulted in some casualties.”