Kabul: At least eight people were killed as a wave of suicide explosions rocked a British cultural centre in Kabul on Friday, a public holiday marking Afghanistan’s independence from Britain in 1919.
Afghanistan’s interior ministry said death toll in Kabul attacks rose to eight.
Four blasts, claimed by the Taliban, struck the British Council offices in Kabul, while an Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter at the scene reported heavy gunfire ongoing inside the compound.
The British Council is an official organization part-funded by London which promotes cultural relations in offices around the world.
Police said the first two blasts, at least, were the work of suicide bombers.
The British embassy and Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan confirmed that the target was the British Council.
An embassy spokesman said: “I can confirm reports of an attack against the British Council compound in Kabul.” He added that the embassy was in contact with Afghan authorities at the scene but could not provide any information on casualties.
An AFP reporter at the scene saw two large ISAF armoured vehicles arriving as gunfire intensified.
An ISAF spokesman, Captain Justin Brockhoff, said the force had sent a limited number of troops to the scene. “We have a very small contribution to the Afghan-led response,” he said. Afghan security forces are in overall control of security in Kabul.
The AFP reporter later heard a third, loud explosion followed by a fourth quieter one amid ongoing gunfire.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, contacted by AFP, claimed the militant group leading a 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan was responsible for the attack, which he said was to mark the nation’s independence day.
He said the attackers’ target was the British Council and a United Nations guest house. But a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Dan McNorton, denied any of its sites was involved.
“Taliban Mujahideen stormed these two compounds and heavy fighting is going on with the Afghan police,” Mujahid said. “Today is our independence day from Britain. They recognized our independence 92 years ago - today’s attack was marking that day. Now the British have invaded our country again and they will recognize our independence day again.”
Britain is the second-largest provider of troops to the international military effort fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan after the United States, with around 9,500 forces mainly in the south.
The incident was thought to have started at around 5:45 am (0115 GMT) when an AFP reporter heard two explosions within about 10 minutes of each other.
At the scene was the burning wreckage of a car that had rammed into the wall of the British Council compound and exploded. There were ambulances on hand and helicopters overhead.
“I was asleep when the sound of a heavy explosion woke me up,” said eyewitness Mohammad Aber, who lives over the road from the building. “I went to the roof. I saw a car was on fire, and there was suddenly a second explosion, then the shooting started.”
The British Council’s website says its work in Kabul is mainly focused on providing support for Afghans wanting to learn English, for which there is an overwhelming demand.