Taliban militants struck the heart of the Afghan government in Kabul on Monday, prompting fierce gunbattles after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the presidential palace. More explosions rocked the capital as Afghan troops fought off the attackers.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that 20 armed militants, including some with suicide vests, had entered Kabul to target the presidential palace and other government buildings.
It was the latest attack showing the insurgents' ability to penetrate the heavily secured city - even near the presidential palace and government ministries. Militants have become increasingly brazen in challenging Afghan and international forces as the US and NATO allies begin sending 37,000 more troops to join the fight.
Police sealed off a large area in the center of Kabul as the clash of machine-gun fire echoed through the mountain-rimmed city.
One group of militants entered a supermarket after throwing grenades inside to frighten shoppers, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary said.
"The area is surrounded by security forces," he said. "A gunbattle is going on."
Mohib Safi, deputy governor of the central bank, said bank employees heard a strong explosion followed by gunfire. He said employees were safely inside and that no militants had entered the building.
Another huge explosion was heard less than two hours later at an intersection between the Foreign Ministry and the Education Ministry. An Associated Press reporter saw a car burning at the scene.
Afghan security forces surrounded the area, and fighting between the two sides was continuing. Ambulances transported the wounded from the scene.
NATO said international forces were working with Afghan troops to secure the area.