Taliban fighters launched a series of attacks on government targets in the centre of Kabul on Monday, with suicide bombers blowing themselves up at several locations and heavily armed fighters fighting a pitched battle in a shopping centre.
Gunfire and loud explosions shook the city and a huge column of smoke towered over its centre, pouring out of the shopping centre where fighters battled security forces for hours.
After more than four hours of gunbattles, President Hamid Karzai said in a statement that the security situation is "under control" and order has once again been restored.
The Taliban said 20 of their fighters were involved in the attacks, which they said targeted the presidential palace, justice ministry, ministry of mines and a presidential administrative building, all clustered in the centre of town.
When the attacks began outside Karzai's sprawling palace compound, he was inside swearing in new members of his cabinet.
U.S. envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke had left Kabul hours earlier for New Delhi.
"Battles still underway"
A Reuters correspondent at the scene of the blazing shopping centre siege saw the body of a shopkeeper carried out. People wept over the body as gunshots could be heard ringing out.
Mohammad Shah, who had escaped the building where he keeps a shop, said the fighters had stormed in after an explosion at the gate to the nearby presidential palace. Security guards evacuated civilians while the fighters rushed to the higher floors.
Afghan forces recaptured the shopping centre after noon, killing five fighters there, a security source said. A Reuters reporter at the scene could still hear gunfire, and the head of the Kabul police criminal investigations department said battles were still underway behind the justice ministry building.
While the siege was on, a suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle outside another shopping centre nearby killing several police and security officials. A rocket later struck near a cinema hundreds of metres away.
Three suicide bombers loaded with grenades blew themselves up in different places: one near the education ministry, a second in a crowded square near the central bank and a third outside the shopping centre, a senior government official said.
Last Mod: 18 Ocak 2010, 14:04
Initial reports of casualties were only partial. NATO forces said at least two armed insurgents were killed. A security source said two guards were shot dead by the fighters as they stormed the Grand Shopping Centre. Another said three people had died.
Health Ministry spokesman Ahmad Farid Raeed said 18 wounded civilians had been transported to hospitals around the city.
Government buildings and diplomatic offices in Kabul are heavily fortified.
A Reuters reporter overheard security forces saying on a radio that the car bomber who struck the second shopping centre had driven a military ambulance, suggesting fighters may have posed as members of Afghan security forces or infiltrated them.