A suicide attack targeted India’s diplomatic compound in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, with explosions and gunfire rattling the area.
A suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-filled vehicle outside the entrance gates of the Indian consulate compound at about noon (local time), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Smaller explosions and gunfire followed as other militants attempted to storm into the compound after the initial blast.
RFE/RL’s correspondent reported seeing the bodies of four dead gunmen on the ground outside the compound walls after their battle with security forces ended.
Authorities said later that five gunmen and the suicide car bomber were killed.
They said two civilians were killed in the violence and 19 were injured.
In New Delhi, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said the “consulate has been targeted but everyone is safe” within the compound, which is in a neighborhood that also includes diplomatic offices of other countries.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but both the Taliban and rival Islamic State (IS) militants have a strong presence in the area.
In fact, IS militants have had a growing presence in Nangarhar province during the past year and are challenging the Taliban there.
The diplomatic quarter in Jalalabad, the capital of the province, has been repeatedly attacked in recent months.
In January, IS militants claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Pakistan’s consulate in Jalalabad – the first major IS attack in the city.
India helped overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and is the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan.
But New Delhi’s presence in Afghanistan has irked Islamabad, which has previously alleged that India’s intelligence agency works undercover in the country to undermine Pakistan.
India’s embassy in Kabul was targeted by a suicide car bomber in July 2008 in an attack that killed 58 people.
U.S. intelligence officials suggested that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency played a role in the attack – an allegation that Islamabad strongly denies.
Wednesday’s attack in Jalalabad came as U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson formally took over command of NATO-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Nicholson replaced the outgoing Gen. John Campbell, who told reporters in Kabul that there “is still much work to be done” in Afghanistan.
Campbell said Afghan security forces have “come far, but they still need” NATO’s help.
Delegates from Afghanistan, China, the United States, and Pakistan said after meeting in Kabul last week that direct peace talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul were expected to start in Islamabad during the first week of March.
But since that announcement, Taliban militants have increased their attacks across Afghanistan — prompting President Ashraf Ghani to say that his government would not negotiate with extremists who kill innocent Afghan civilians.
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