Afghanistan suicide bomb: 12 killed in twin blasts in Kabul
Twelve people have been killed after two large explosions hit the British Council building in the Afghan capital Kabul. The suicide bombings, claimed by the Taliban, struck the offices on a public holiday marking Afghanistan's independence from Britain in 1919.
It is thought to have been the culmination of a three-pronged attack, with a suicide bomber first detonating his explosive vest at a main square in western Kabul where police were guarding a key intersection.
Ten minutes later, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside the front gate of the British Council, punching a hole through a perimiter wall around the compound.
As the area was evacuated, local shopkeepers say as many as nine suicide attackers armed with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and AK 47s started firing as they ran towards the British Council building.
The violence was only quelled after British troops and the International Security Assistance Force were called to the scene.
It is believed that eight Afghan policemen and four militants have been killed.
One of the walls of the compound collapsed after the blasts, and there are fears that a number of Afghan policemen may be buried in the rubble.
The British Council is a partly government-funded agency which runs mainly cultural programmes
One military officer said several workers were believed to have made it to a "safe room" inside. One foreign worker was seen being escorted from the scene by bodyguards.
The BBC quoted a police source saying that eight or nine suicide attackers had attacked the building.
"They brought enough weapons to fight for a day,'' the source said.
The British Council is an official organisation part-funded by London that promotes cultural relations in offices around the world.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Kabul said: "I can confirm reports of an attack against the British Council compound in Kabul."
He added that the embassy was in contact with Afghan authorities at the scene but could not provide any information on casualties.
Kabul police official Farooq Asas said a suicide bomber had detonated a car laden with explosives.
The blast shattered glass in buildings a third of a mile from the site, and gunfire and smoke were reported in the area.
Witnesses said that the compoud was surrounded by Afghan police and intelligence officers. Heavy machine gun fire could be heard from inside and occasional explosions. A fresh explosion hit the area at 10:00am (0530 GMT).
Several injured people had been dragged from the compound including at least one Gurkha guard.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the militant group leading a 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan was responsible for the attack.
"Taliban mujahedeen stormed these two compounds and heavy fighting is going on with the Afghan police," he said.
"Today is our independence day from Britain. They recognised our independence 92 years ago - today's attack was marking that day.
"Now the British have invaded our country again and they will recognise our independence day again."
Residents were evacuated from the area surrounding the offices.
"I was asleep when the sound of a heavy explosion woke me up," said Mohammad Aber, who lives over the road from the building.
"I went to the roof. I saw a car was on fire, and there was suddenly a second explosion, then the shooting started."
Britain is the second-largest provider of troops to the international military effort in Afghanistan after the United States, with around 9,500 forces mainly in the south.
Founded in 1934, the British Council is a registered charity and is described as the UK's international relations body.
According to its website, the organisation has had a "long association" with Afghanistan.
Its current focus in the country is mainly on education and English language teaching, the website states.