Afghanistan: Explosion and gunfire rock Kabul’s Shahr-e-Naw area

The Taliban has attacked the offices of an international non-government organisation (NGO) in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, setting off a huge explosion.

At least nine people were injured as the armed group exchanged fire with the Afghan security forces, officials said on Wednesday.

Nusrat Rahimi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior Affairs, said the target of the attack was Counterpart International, an NGO headquartered in the United States that has been operating in Afghanistan since 2005.

The NGO’s office is located near the attorney general’s office in Shahr-e-Naw area in Kabul.

Intermittent gunshots and explosions were heard as special forces, backed by advisers from foreign forces, surrounded the site and engaged the attackers in a standoff. Authorities cordoned the area as they sent ambulances and police trucks.

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 80 employees of the NGO were rescued and security forces were clearing other buildings in the area.

“Two floors of the building have been cleared and to avoid civilian casualties, the operation is being undertaken with caution,” Rahimi said.

At least nine injured people were taken to hospital, said health ministry spokesman, Wahidullah Mayar, while officials at the city’s Emergency Hospital said they received 15 wounded.

It was not immediately clear if any foreigner was among the wounded.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group attacked the NGO because it was involved in “harmful Western activities” inside Afghanistan. He did not elaborate what those activities were.

The blast came only two weeks after armed men targeted the communications ministry in central Kabul, killing at least seven people. That attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

Meamwhile, representatives of the US and Taliban continue their negotiations in Qatar aimed at bringing an end to the nearly 18-year-long conflict.

The talks follow a peace summit in Kabul last week where President Ashraf Ghani offered a ceasefire from the first day of Ramadan, which was refused by the Taliban.

Last year, the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire at the end of Ramadan after Ghani declared a unilateral truce for eight days earlier in the month.

It was first formal nationwide ceasefire since the US-led invasion of 2001 and saw unprecedented scenes of reconciliation and jubilation across the country.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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