18 Feb 2009
Kabulis stunned by Taliban raid
Officials warn that insurgents are getting stronger after they strike simultaneously at three government institutions, IWPR-trained journalists report.
By IWPR staff in Kabul for IWPR
Kabul is in a de facto state of emergency, following a series of attacks on Wednesday, 11 February, that have left at least 20 dead and 57 injured. Roads are closed, shops are shuttered, and a terrorized population wonders what will come next.
Nearly twenty suspects have detained in connection with the incidents, which officials say signal a new and troubling stage in the insurgency.
Shortly before 10 am, suicide bombers attacked the Justice Ministry, the directorate of prison affairs, and the education ministry.
Five attackers attempted to gain entrance to the Justice Ministry, just a stone’s throw from the presidential palace in the heart of Kabul. Two were killed immediately, but three penetrated the ministry’s defenses, and went on a rampage. Terrified staffers cowered behind desks and his in washrooms while waiting for relief.
“We did not know whether we would get out alive,” said one ministry staffer, who did not want to give her name. “The terrorists were in the corridors and we could hear continuous shooting. Finally the police came and saved us.”
Justice Minister Sarwar Danesh was pinned down in his office for more than an hour before he was able to escape unharmed.
While Afghans across the country followed events on national television, security forces erected ladders against the side of the building and, brandishing automatic weapons, climbed in through the windows. After several hours, the police managed to kill all of the attackers before they were able to explode their suicide vests. At least 13 people died in the assault, and over 40 were injured, according to health officials in Kabul.
Meanwhile, across town, two suicide bombers approached the directorate of prison affairs.
“One suicide bomber blew himself up near the building, while the second was able to reach the second floor before detonating,” said General Aref, head of the directorate.
The explosion blew off much of the front of the building, scattering glass, blood and body parts in a 500-metre radius.
“We thought it was Doomsday,” said Enayatullah, a young man who was at the scene. “I was just passing by … when suddenly there was an explosion and everything went dark. Then I saw dead bodies everywhere. I could not count them. We could not tell who was alive and who was dead.”
The official toll was seven dead and 15 injured, but General Aref said that the numbers could well rise.
A third attacker was identified near the education ministry, and shot. He managed to blow himself up, but caused no further injuries or damage.
Throughout the middle part of the day, the wail of ambulances could be heard all over the city.
Lines of anxious relatives besieged local hospitals, especially the Italian-run Emergency Hospital in downtown Kabul.
By 1 pm, the situation was under control.
But the authorities say that the 11 February events signal a worrying escalation in the war with the insurgents.
“[These attacks] indicate that the enemy is able to get weapons and explosives into the capital,” said Hanif Atmar, the interior minister, speaking to journalists at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “We should work harder.”
Amrullah Saleh, head of the national directorate of security, said that forensic reports indicated that all of the attackers were between 20 and 25 years old.
“We are working on identifying the networks behind this attack, and we have already detained 21 people on suspicion of being linked to this incident,” he told reporters.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed told IWPR that they organized this attack because of the harsh treatment meted out to Taliban prisoners in government jails.
“We wanted to teach them a lesson,” he said in a telephone interview. “They should treat our prisoners better.”
This is the largest organized attack on the capital since the fall of the Taliban more than seven years ago. Other incidents, such as last summer’s suicide bombing at the Indian embassy, have claimed more lives, but no single attack has had the discipline and precision of Wednesday’s simultaneous strikes.
“People are getting more frightened by the day,” said Gul Rahman, a Kabul resident. “If the authorities are not safe, how can we feel secure?”
The journalists who filed this report have requested that their names be withheld for security reasons.
This aricle was originally pubilshed by IWPR's Afghan Recovery Report.
This article was produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).