KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban launched a brazen assault in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, with a suicide bomber detonating his vehicle outside an election office on the edge of Kabul while two other gunmen stormed into the building, killing four people and trapping dozens of employees inside.
Insurgents also carried out a number of attacks elsewhere across the country killing at least 10 people, many of them members of the country's security forces, including a woman police official in southern Helmand province.
In Kabul, a candidate for a seat on a provincial council was among those killed when insurgents stormed the election office. Two election workers and a policeman were also among the dead, Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammed Zahir said.
The attack triggered a standoff that lasted more than four hours. Zahir said another four people were wounded, including two policemen.
Inside the three-story commission office, windows and doors were blown out by the explosion and walls were riddled with bullet holes. Office equipment lay in ruins on the floor. The firefight between police and the insurgents took place on the second and third floors of the office.
The trapped employees hid in the basement. Police and guards prevented the insurgents from getting to the basement.
The assault was the latest in the insurgents' violent campaign against the country's April 5 elections, when Afghans are to choose their next president and local provincial council members. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the polls.
Since campaigning began in January insurgents have attacked candidates' convoys, their campaign workers and killed one election commission official. Also, an election observer from Paraguay was among the nine people who were killed last Thursday when the Taliban attacked the Serena Hotel in Kabul.
Still Zia-ul Haq Amerkhiel, chief electoral officer with the Independent Election Commission, said the attack will not deter staff ahead of next month's polling.
"We are conducting elections in the middle of a war, but the important thing is the election commission is committed to conducting the elections, and the Afghan people are committed to participating in these elections," he said. "We have a clear message to the Afghan people to participate in the upcoming elections and vote for (your) candidate of choice."
Fierce gunfire reverberated across the neighborhood of Karte Char throughout the afternoon as heavily armed troops from the Afghan rapid response force surrounded the election office building, located near the home of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
Ahmadzai was not at home at the time and was not the target of the attack, officials said.
Police official Sayed Gul Aga Hashmi said the assault started with one suicide bomber detonating his car, paving the way for other attackers to storm inside the building.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a statement to media, saying their target was the election office.
Also Tuesday, insurgents carried out a number of attacks across the country.
A suicide bomber blew himself up in northern Kunduz province. while in northeastern Kunar province three insurgents stormed the state-owned New Kabul Bank. In eastern Khost province, dozens of insurgents attacked a police outpost on the border with Pakistan.
In southern Helmand province, where the Taliban control vast areas, a woman police official was shot and killed in her home. The Taliban have killed four women police officials in Helmand in the last two years.
Five people were killed and another 20 were wounded in northern Kunduz province when a suicide bomber blew himself up during a traditional buzkashi match __ which features a headless goat, said provincial police chief Gen. Mustafa Mohsini.
So far the Taliban have not taken responsibility for this attack or the killing of the woman police official in southern Helmand.
However their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement sent to the news media took responsibility for a deadly attack on the government-owned New Kabul Bank in Asadabad, the capital of northeastern Kunar province.
Two policemen were killed and three others wounded in the attack carried out by three insurgents with suicide vests. The insurgents also died, said provincial police chief Abdul Habib Sayidkhili.
In eastern Khost province, dozens of insurgents armed with rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine guns laid siege to a border outpost. Provincial Police Chief Faizullah Ghyrat said two police border guards were killed, along with five insurgents.
The Taliban took responsibility for the Khost attack.
In other developments, Afghan police said they detained eight senior employees of a private security company that provided guards to the Kabul hotel attacked by the Taliban last week.
The interior ministry said in a statement that the company employed by the Serena Hotel was negligent, which enabled the four attackers to hide small handguns in their shoes and avoid detection to enter the premises on Thursday evening.
The gunmen opened fire inside the hotel restaurant, killing nine people, including two children and four foreigners. The attackers were killed by police.