At least two large blasts have been heard in the center of the Afghan capital, Kabul, apparently targeting a United Nations office. Gunfire was heard after the explosions, with the Taliban claiming responsibility.
At least two large explosions shook Kabul's downtown district of Borj-e Sharahah at about 4 p.m. local time on Friday.
Smoke was seen rising above the capital following the initial blast. The explosions were close to a hospital used by the National Security Directorate, an intelligence agency, and the headquarters of the Afghan Public Protection Force.
The area, which also contains buildings used by aid agencies, was swiftly cordoned off by police. Officials said initially that it remained unclear if the explosion had been a suicide bomb.
Security officials said that Taliban militants had entered a UN compound after the explosions. At least two gunmen were still in the building.
Witnesses said that gunfire was heard after the blast. Jawed Kazem, a local shopkeeper, told the AFP news agency: "I was sitting in my shop when the explosion happened. It was a big explosion which threw me off my chair. Minutes later, another explosion happened."
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying their target was a building being used by the CIA.
"A number of mujahedin attacked a refuge used by CIA officials in Kabul as well as a department of the Interior Ministry," said Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the insurgents.
"First, a mujahed detonated his explosives-laden car at the entrance of the CIA building and opened the way for others," he said.
The explosion is the second in just over a week, after a suicide car bomb last Thursday targeted a foreign military convoy, killing 15 people. That bombing was the deadliest in the Afghan capital for more than a year.
rc/ccp (AP, AFP, Reuters)