Taliban suicide attack kills two at Kabul mall

by Mustafa Kazimi
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An attacker blew himself up outside the Kabul City Centre mall -- the scene of explosions a year ago

An Afghan security officer stands guard outside the Park Residence guesthouse (left) and Kabul City Center shopping center (right), the site of the gun battle and explosions, in Kabul in February 2010. A suicide attack at the entrance of the shopping mall and hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul killed two guards, an interior ministry spokesman said

A Taliban suicide bomber targeted a popular shopping mall in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday, killing two guards and wounding at least two other people, officials said.

Interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP that the attacker blew himself up after he was stopped at the gates of the Kabul City Centre, Afghanistan's first modern-style indoor shopping complex that opened in 2005.

The blast is the second serious attack within three weeks against shops frequented by Westerners in the Afghan capital, highlighting the precarious state of security.

"It was a single blast. A suicide bomber tried to enter the mall. He was stopped by the guards at the entrance, he blew himself up and killed the two armed private guards and injured two other people nearby," Bashary said.

Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi also told reporters at the site that two guards were killed and all the shoppers plus some foreigners in a hotel in the upper part of the building were unhurt.

"I visited the mall and the its hotel section. I talked to the guests there. All were fine," Salangi said.

"Two people, both guards of City Centre, have been killed and two other people are injured," the police chief told reporters. He said the bomber set off his explosives after he was shot at by security forces.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack of "intense brutality" on civilians out shopping for once again demonstrating the "evil intention and un-Islamic acts of terrorists who don't want people to live in peace".

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed claimed the attack on behalf of the militant group, saying multiple attackers were involved.

An AFP reporter at the scene said the entrance to the mall had been blown up and that dozens of police had sealed off the area.

The mall boosted security and required visitors to undergo a body search after a Taliban attack on a nearby guesthouse in February 2010 killed 16 people, including one French national, one Italian and seven Indians.

"There was two, three gunshots heard... and than an explosion. Later police came and we left our shops," Mohammad, who runs a nearby sweet shop, told AFP. Like many Afghans, the shopkeeper uses only one name.

Made of shimmering glass, the multi-storey Kabul City Centre is one of a wave of recent high-end buildings in the Afghan capital and is equipped with Western-style escalators and see-through elevators.

The top six floors of the mall belong to the Safi Landmark Hotel, which is owned by a Dubai-based hotel and resort company and frequented by Westerners.

The attack came after eight people died in a suicide bombing on a supermarket popular with Westerners near the British embassy on January 28. All of those killed were Afghans.

There have been a string of recent high-profile attacks in Kabul, where security is managed by Afghan forces, in recent years.

In August, two suicide bombers attacked a Kabul guesthouse of a British private security company, killing two drivers and wounding a guard.

In December 2009, at least eight people were killed and 40 were wounded in a suicide bombing near a hotel hosting foreigners.

And in October the same year, the Taliban had attacked a UN guesthouse, killing eight people including five foreign employees of the United Nations.

In January 2008 a suicide attack against the Serena Hotel, the city's most luxurious hotel which is frequented by foreigners, left eight dead.