KABUL // Witnesses said the militants who yesterday attacked three government buildings, killing at least 26 people and injuring 55, were wearing the uniforms of the Afghan intelligence service. The defence ministry said eight suicide attackers also died in the daring co-ordinated strikes on the prisons directorate, and justice and education ministries.
Witnesses of the attack on the justice ministry, which is close to the presidential palace in the heart of the capital, said several gunmen burst into the building and opened fire on guards. Terrified ministry employees jumped from the windows of the four-storey building, while others locked themselves in their offices as exchanges of gunfire continued for several hours, witnesses said. Noor Aqa, a shopkeeper in Khair Khana, a district near the ministry of justice, said the attack took place about 9am and two of the men were wearing National Directorate of Security (NDS) uniforms.
"They looked nervous and were pacing up and down the street two or three times. Then I heard some shots being fired and I saw they had hit a soldier in the leg. I think he also started firing and injured one of these guys. Then I heard a big explosion inside the office. "I saw maybe 15 dead bodies being taken out of that building, but I am not sure how many people were killed or injured in total."
Another witness, Muqim, 20, a money changer, said he saw five men attack the ministry. "They opened the doors of the offices inside and just killed the people. The situation is getting worse day by day and it is much worse now than one month ago." As the dramatic assault unfolded, a suicide attacker also struck at the education ministry, witnesses and officials said. The man was shot dead and his explosives detonated, but no one was hurt, an interior ministry official said.
Jawid Wafa, 27, said he was nearby at a shop where he sells sunglasses when he heard the attack. "Suddenly I heard firing so I escaped and came to my shop. Then I saw the police come and surround the area. They asked me to close my shop, but we didn't because we need money to feed our family. It was around nine o'clock. "The people are worried a lot about the situation. They are afraid if they go out they will get killed by suicide attacks, but I don't know what else they can do because they are all poor people. They have to find money to feed their families. The situation is getting worse day by day."
Two suicide attackers also struck the prisons directorate in the north of the city. The interior ministry media office said a policeman and "four to five" civilians were killed there. Of the eight attackers killed in the three-pronged attack, three managed to blow themselves up and five were shot dead, officials said. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said 16 suicide attackers had entered the Afghan capital.
He said some of the suicide attackers sent to the city were still waiting for orders. "The attack at the ministry of justice and the directorate of prisons was revenge for mistreatment of Taliban prisoners," he said. The attacks caused widespread panic in the capital, witnesses said. Security groups warned people to avoid moving about in the city. The top international military commander in Afghanistan, US Gen David McKiernan, said the assaults showed the "barbaric" face of the Taliban.
Also yesterday, eight Afghan security guards were killed when two roadside bombs ripped through their vehicles minutes apart in the southern province of Helmand. The blasts took place on the same road five minutes from each other, police said. There was no claim of responsibility for the blasts. firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse