Attackers firing automatic rifles and wearing explosive vests stormed the Justice Ministry in central Kabul on Wednesday while others burst into another government building in the north of the city, triggering chaos as ministry workers fled, witnesses said.
Coming on the eve of a scheduled visit by Richard C. Holbrooke, President Obama’s newly appointed special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the attacks displayed the apparent ease with which Taliban insurgents who control much of the Afghan countryside can also breach the defenses of the heavily-fortified capital.
At least 19 people were killed and 54 wounded in the coordinated attacks, the ministry of public health said. Eight attackers also died, the authorities said. The Taliban took responsibility for the assaults.
In one incident on Wednesday, assailants stormed into the Justice Ministry in central Kabul. In another at around the same time, suicide bombers blew themselves up at the ministry’s corrections department in northern Kabul, according to Gen. Mohammad Arif, a senior officer in the prisons service.
The Taliban claimed that several other suicide bombers could still be at large in the city.
Police officials said five gunmen wearing suicide vests burst into the Justice Ministry, shot dead an official at the entrance and then spread out into the building. The police initially said all of them were killed by Afghan intelligence officers who entered the building in pursuit.
Hours after the attack, the police said they believed one assailant had been cornered in the ministry but security forces were unable to move in further because children were trapped at a kindergarten inside the building.
But, after a gun battle in which 60 shots were fired, the police said that the attacker had been killed.
Although Kabul has been the target of bombings in the past, this is by far the most audacious attack launched by the Taliban. Clearly they intend to remind the Karzai government and NATO forces that they have the ability to carry out attacks even in the most "secure" parts of the country.