KABUL, Afghanistan — Suicide bombers equipped with explosive vests and guns targeted a British compound in west Kabul on Friday morning, triggering an hours-long gun battle with Afghan security forces and leaving at least eight Afghans dead.
Three foreigners — British and South African teachers and a British bodyguard — were rescued after hiding in a safe room during the attack on the British Council, the British government's international cultural relations arm, British officials said.
Hashmat Stanikzai, the spokesman for the Kabul police department, said that the dead included Afghan police officers, the agency's security guards and two civilians. Eight Afghan police officers were injured.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came on the 92nd anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from Great Britain.
"This attack is the work of ignorant people who have been caught in the trap of the enemies of Afghanistan and terrorist groups," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.
The British foreign minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, called the attack "despicable."
"My thoughts are with those killed and injured and their families and friends, including locals working to protect the British Council building," Burt said in a statement. "It is a sad fact that once again an attack aimed at the international community has killed Afghans."
The attack began when an explosives-filled sedan was detonated at the entrance to the British Council in Karte Parwan, a usually secure residential neighborhood in northwest Kabul that is home to senior government officials, including First Vice President Mohammad Qaseem Fahim and Karzai's main political rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
An adviser to the Afghan interior ministry who was at the scene said that there were four attackers — two who detonated cars at the building's entrance and two others who stormed the compound after the blast. The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
The Taliban insurgents who are fighting Afghan and U.S.-led NATO forces described a six-hour battle that "caused heavy losses to foreign and domestic enemies," Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgent group, said in a statement posted on its website.
A McClatchy reporter who visited the site soon after the attack began heard gunfire from inside the compound and saw scattered debris from the car bombs. The area was blocked off by security forces, and NATO helicopters were hovering overhead.
"I prayed early morning and went to bed when I heard the explosion. I thought it is an earthquake — all of the glass of our house broke," said Luful Rehman, 31, a resident who serves in the Afghan army.
Rehman's clothes were bloodstained; he said his 9-year-old niece was injured when glass fragments pierced her arm.
A police officer at the site of the blast, who wasn't authorized to be quoted by name, said that it was a suicide attack. "I saw a flame of fire, and one (piece of) shrapnel hit our vehicle," he said.
A 61-year-old resident living behind the council office, Sheer Alam, said, "I was sleeping when I heard a powerful explosion and the windows of our room shattered into pieces." He was lucky that he was not hurt — he was sleeping away from a shattered window.
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force condemned the attacks in a statement. It described the attack as "a combination of multiple vehicle-borne and personal-borne" improvised explosive devices.
"This despicable act of murder and destruction today, on this day of Afghan independence, is yet another indication the insurgents have nothing but contempt for the Afghan people," said Gen. John R. Allen, commander of ISAF.
"We will continue to support our Afghan counterparts to destroy the networks behind this attack, and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions," the statement added.
(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.) MORE FROM MCCLATCHY Roadside bombs kill 24 in western Afghanistan U.N. pushes risky plan to resolve Afghan election impasse Airstrike reportedly kills insurgent who downed U.S. chopper Pentagon to reconsider landing Chinooks in battle zones For more international news visit McClatchy's World page.