Thursday 12 December 2019

Deadly fire-fight on streets of Jalalabad after suicide bomber kills at least four in coordinated attack

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack near a bank in Jalalabad, east of Kabul (AP)
Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack near a bank in Jalalabad, east of Kabul (AP)

Afghan security forces have been battling gunmen who took over a building near the Pakistani consulate in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The firefight comes after a suicide bomber detonated explosives that killed at least four people, officials said.

Two police officers died when a suicide bomber detonated explosives near a police car parked outside the consulate at 9am local time in the capital of Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Sediqqi said.

After the blast, two gunmen entered an empty guesthouse near the consulate and began firing on security forces surrounding the building.

"The building is surrounded by our forces and shooting is going on," he said. All staff at the consulate were safe, he added.

The initial attack took place outside the Pakistani consulate, which is near a hospital and schools as well as the Indian consulate. The schools were evacuated, officials said.

The Pakistani consulate is usually busy during morning rush hour as people queue for visas.

Attaullah Khyogani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar, said at least two civilians were also killed in the blast, which was detonated by a man who had joined the visa queue.

An official at the Pakistan embassy in Kabul said all consular staff had been evacuated.

He confirmed the attack had targeted Pakistan's consulate, but could not comment on who was responsible.

Nangarhar is home to a number of insurgent groups and criminal gangs who benefit from the proximity to the Pakistan border. Insurgent attacks are not uncommon in Jalalabad.

Islamic State (IS) has a presence in province, having fought with Taliban gunmen in recent months to take control of at least four border districts.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack.

The attack comes two days after Islamabad hosted a meeting of representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States to discuss ending the Taliban's 14-year insurgency.

Pakistan is widely believed to support the Taliban through its security service, though the Pakistani government denies the claim.

The Taliban has split in recent months, with the insurgents divided over their support for a peace process.

The attack is the latest in spate of violence since the start of 2016, which is predicted to be a tough year for Afghanistan, where insurgents are expected to escalate violence in order to enter into any peace negotiations from a position of strength.

During the first week of January, a restaurant frequented by foreigners in Kabul and a contractor camp on the outskirts of the capital were attacked, and the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was besieged for more than 24 hours.

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