ISIS’ Afghan strike hits Iraqi Em­bassy

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - AMIR SHAH

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Is­lamic State group tar­geted the Iraqi Em­bassy in Kabul on Mon­day, with a sui­cide bomber blow­ing him­self up out­side the gates, fol­lowed by three gun­men who stormed into the build­ing. The as­sault set off a four-hour fire­fight that ended only af­ter Afghan se­cu­rity forces said they had killed all the at­tack­ers.

Afghan In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman Na­jib Dan­ish told re­porters that two Afghan em­ploy­ees of the Iraq Em­bassy died in the at­tack. Three po­lice of­fi­cers were in­jured, he said.

As the at­tack un­folded there were con­flict­ing re­ports of ca­su­al­ties, with a wit­ness say­ing he saw bodies of at least two po­lice­men ly­ing on the road out­side the em­bassy soon af­ter the at­tack be­gan.

In its claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity, the Is­lamic State group said its fight­ers had killed seven guards, but the mil­i­tant group of­ten ex­ag­ger­ates its claims on the num­ber of ca­su­al­ties in­flicted.

Also, the Is­lamic State said only two of its fol­low­ers were in­volved in the at­tack, not four as Kabul of­fi­cials said, ad­ding to the con­flict­ing re­ports.

Ear­lier Dan­ish said only one po­lice­man was wounded and that there were no fa­tal­i­ties among the se­cu­rity forces or civil­ians. Dan­ish said over the phone that all the em­bassy staff mem­bers were safe but that the build­ing had suf­fered ex­ten­sive dam­age, with win­dows bro­ken and sev­eral rooms badly burned.

It wasn’t un­til the at­tack ended that both the em­bassy and the In­te­rior Min­istry re­al­ized two of their Afghan staff had died in the as­sault.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani con­demned the at­tack and said it was the gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide pro­tec­tion to in­ter­na­tional mis­sions.

In Bagh­dad, For­eign Min­istry spokesman Ah­mad Ja­mal con­demned the as­sault as a “ter­ror­ist at­tack.”

The at­tack be­gan with a big ex­plo­sion that rocked cen­tral Kabul shortly be­fore noon, fol­lowed by gun­fire that lasted for sev­eral hours, and two or three more sub­se­quent large ex­plo­sions.

Po­lice quickly cor­doned off the area, bar­ring re­porters from get­ting too close to the scene.

The Afghan In­te­rior Min­istry said a sui­cide bomber first started the at­tack, blow­ing him­self up at the em­bassy gate, af­ter which three at­tack­ers stormed in­side.

Ear­lier, Afghan of­fi­cials, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity as they were not au­tho­rized to talk to the me­dia, had said a car bomb started the as­sault. Later on, it be­came clear the sui­cide bomber was on foot and not driv­ing a car.

The min­istry state­ment said Afghan se­cu­rity forces quickly de­ployed to the scene, res­cu­ing all the em­bassy diplo­mats and em­ploy­ees and tak­ing them to safety.

While the at­tack was still un­der­way, the Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate in Afghanistan claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity in a state­ment car­ried by the Is­lamic Statelinked Aa­maq news agency.

A po­lice of­fi­cer in the area, who iden­ti­fied him­self only as Ab­dul­lah, said the gun­fire was ini­tially in­tense but later be­came more spo­radic. The area was sur­rounded by ar­mored ve­hi­cles and a large con­tin­gent of po­lice and Afghan sol­diers.

At least one eye­wit­ness, a store owner who goes by the name of Hafizul­lah — many Afghans use only one name — said he saw the bodies of two po­lice­men on the ground be­fore ar­mored per­son­nel carriers and po­lice ar­rived to cor­don off the area.

More than an hour into the at­tack, wit­nesses re­ported hear­ing another pow­er­ful ex­plo­sion and said they saw black smoke bil­low­ing sky­ward. It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear what had caused the later ex­plo­sion.

“The ex­plo­sion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman cry­ing near the site of the at­tack, said. She said she works at the nearby of­fice of Afghanistan’s Na­tional Air­line Ari­ana.

The Iraq Em­bassy is lo­cated in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, out­side the so-called green zone where most for­eign em­bassies and diplo­matic mis­sions are lo­cated and which is heav­ily for­ti­fied with a pha­lanx of guards and ce­ment blast walls.

By com­par­i­son, the Iraqi Em­bassy is lo­cated on a small street in a neigh­bor­hood dom­i­nated by mar­kets and busi­nesses.

Af­ter Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coali­tion, re­cap­tured the city of Mosul from the Is­lamic State group ear­lier in July, the Iraq Em­bassy had called re­porters to its of­fices in Kabul to ex­press con­cerns that the area Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate might stage large-scale at­tacks else­where to draw at­ten­tion from the mil­i­tant group’s losses in Iraq. In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Kathy Gan­non, Bassem Mroue and Si­nan Salah of The Associated Press.

AP/RAH­MAT GUL

Se­cu­rity forces leave af­ter a sui­cide at­tack fol­lowed by a clash be­tween Afghan forces and Is­lamic State fight­ers dur­ing an at­tack on the Iraqi em­bassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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