Police in Kabul have reported an explosion and gunfire close to the Independent Election Commission, one week before presidential polls. No casualties were immediately reported, the Taliban claimed responsibility.
Police and election officials on Saturday reported an attack in the center of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, close to the country's Independent Election Commission compound. Officers said that the militants had seized a nearby multi-story building, rather than seeking to enter the heavily fortified compound, and were using it as a launching pad for their attack.
"We can only confirm that a number of armed insurgents have entered a building close to the Independent Election Commission," Kabul's chief police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai said.
Afghanistan holds presidential elections on April 5. Insurgents have attacked several strategic targets in Kabul in recent days, most recently killing two people at a guest house used by a US-based aid group, seeking to disrupt preparations.
"I can confirm an attack at the IEC (Independent Election Commission) headquarters," IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor told the AFP news agency. "We heard two explosions inside the IEC compound, the sound of firing is still ongoing, but people are safe and are in [reinforced] safe rooms."
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the attack. His description of events online was markedly different to police accounts, claiming that a suicide bomber and a gunman stormed the IEC compound and that the strike coincided with a gathering of IEC officials and international observers.
Noor denied these claims, saying that a scheduled news conference to discuss election security had been canceled prior to the attack.
The Taliban, which has waged a years-long insurgency against the government, had urged its supporters to work to disrupt the elections, which should decide on a successor to incumbent Hamid Karzai, who has reached term limit after 10 years in office.
The Taliban struck another IEC building in Kabul, albeit not its fortified headquarters, on Tuesday.
msh/tj (AFP, AP, Reuters)