Taliban guerrillas disguised as women attacked a British cultural center in Kabul, killing eight people and injuring 22, as Afghans marked their country’s full independence from Britain.
Two early morning car bomb explosions jolted Kabul yesterday and raised a column of black smoke from the compound of the British Council, a U.K. government-backed cultural and educational organization. The attack was the deadliest in Kabul since Taliban guerrillas killed 12 people in a five-hour commando assault on the Hotel Intercontinental on June 29.
Four Afghan police, along with two Afghan and two foreign security guards employed by the center, were killed in the attack, the Afghan Interior Ministry said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. None of the three British nationals involved were hurt, the U.K. Foreign Office said.
“Some insurgents managed to enter the compound after the first bomber detonated a small truck packed with explosives in the entrance gate,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Siddiqi said in a phone interview. A second explosion occurred as police surrounded the compound.
A New Zealand special forces soldier died on his way to the hospital after being shot in the chest by an insurgent while attempting to free people trapped in the council buildings following the attack, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones told reporters in Auckland today.
The four men were dressed in Burqas and wearing suicide vests and a gun battle started as they entered the compound, the ministry said. The attackers barricaded themselves inside the building and two were shot dead and two others blew themselves up after an extended firefight. The two other members of the six-strong insurgent team died when they detonated the car bombs.
The Taliban movement “targeted the British Council to mark our independence day,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in a phone interview. The attack came on the day that Afghans commemorate a 1919 treaty in which the British empire recognized the full independence of Afghanistan’s kings, after years of having taken a role in Afghan political affairs.
“This was a particularly vicious and cowardly attack but it’s an attack that hasn’t succeeded,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters yesterday. “It won’t deflect us from the vital work we’re doing in Afghanistan.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned the violence, saying in a statement that “brutal attacks such as these will not lessen our resolve or our commitment to Afghanistan and the region.”
New Zealand Prime Minister
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters in Auckland today that “it’s not my view that we should reconsider our commitment in Afghanistan.” New Zealand’s soldiers in the country “should remain on task and on track,” he said.
The New Zealand soldier’s death is first in Afghanistan for New Zealand’s special forces, Lieutenant Rhys Jones said. He is also the nation’s third combat death in Afghanistan since August, 2010, according to the New Zealand Herald newspaper.
The bombs shattered windows hundreds of yards away in Kabul’s Kart-e-Parwan district, including at the home of a former foreign minister and presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, said Ali Farhad Howaida, an aide to Abdullah.
Two British female English language teachers were in the building with their bodyguard and locked themselves in a secure room, Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, told reporters in London. Davidson said the Council, which had been taken by “complete surprise” by the attack, will continue with its educational work in Afghanistan.
“All British nationals affected are now safe,” Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said in a statement released in London. “It is a sad fact that once again an attack aimed at the international community has killed Afghans.
‘‘This attack, against people working to help build a better future for Afghanistan, will not lessen the U.K.’s resolve to support the Afghan people,’’ Burt said. The British Council in Afghanistan runs programs to train teachers and develop curricula in Afghan schools, according to its Website.
The previous Taliban commando attack, against the Hotel Intercontinental, targeted foreign and Afghan officials who had gathered for meetings. The hotel is unaffiliated with the InterContinental Hotels Group.