‘I looked at the gate, it was gone’

Int

At least 18 people were killed and 32 wounded on Friday in suicide and car bomb attacks on two guesthouses popular with foreigners in the centre of Kabul, police officials said.

In a telephone interview, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attacks, which coincided with a major offensive by NATO forces against militants in Helmand, a central element in US President Barack Obama's strategy in rural Afghanistan.

In one attack, a car bomb exploded outside a guesthouse popular with Indians while suicide bombers were among a team that stormed another guesthouse frequented by Britons and Americans, starting a firefight with security forces that lasted for more than 90 minutes.

The fatalities included Indians. Some of the Indian casualties worked at the Indira Gandhi Child Health Institute.

Italian authorities in Rome said Pietro Antonio Colazzo, a diplomatic advisor on temporary assignment at the Italian Embassy in Kabul, was killed by gunfire after the suicide attack on one of the guesthouses, the Park Residence. In Paris, the authorities said a French documentary maker, Séverin Blanchet, 66, was also killed at the Park Residence.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the suicide bombers focused on two sites in the Shari Now district "where the foreign people are staying". "The actual targets are foreign people," he added in a telephone interview.

"Our mujahideen fighters managed to attack in the heart of Kabul city once again," Mujahid told Reuters.

The guesthouses were located adjacent to the Safi Landmark hotel and shopping centre. The fact that the guesthouses used by foreigners were attacked seemed to confirm the Taliban's assertion that the insurgents were aiming at outsiders

General Sayed Ghafar, the chief of the Criminal Investigations Department of the Kabul police, put the death toll at 18 and said the wounded included some police officers.

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