KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters staged an attack Thursday evening in an upscale district in the Afghan capital Kabul. Witnesses described multiple explosions and bursts of gunfire in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, which contains numerous foreign embassies and compounds housing international agencies and companies — as well as the homes of some senior Afghan government officials.
The attack came hours after a suicide car-bomber struck a British embassy vehicle, killing five people including a British citizen.
Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Zahir said there were three explosions followed by extended gunfire. A Taliban spokesman said the intended target was a guesthouse in the district occupied by foreigners. The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, refused to give further details, adding only that the target of the attack was, "enemies."
Afghan police flooded into the area and locked down the surrounding streets. Footage from area security cameras showed heavily armed security forces and armored vehicles deploying in large numbers.
The attack took place near the compound of the development agency International Relief and Development. The agency's head of security, Tony Haslem, told The Associated Press the attack lasted about 45 minutes and he heard rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons being fired.
Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayoub Salangi confirmed that the target of the attack was a guesthouse in the diplomatic area. He said no foreigners had been killed.
"One Nepalese guard was wounded, but all the foreigners are fine," Salangi said. Three attackers had been killed, two by Nepalese guards at the guesthouse, he said.
"One of the attackers blew himself up," he added.
Kabul has come under regular attack in recent weeks. Earlier Thursday, a suicide bomber targeted a British embassy vehicle, killing at least five people, including a British security guard, officials said.
An Afghan national who was driving the vehicle was also killed, and a second British security guard was wounded, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Sediqqi confirmed that four Afghans were killed in the attack and said another 33 civilians were wounded.
Earlier the British Embassy said no diplomats were riding in the car at the time it was hit.
Hammond, speaking at a press conference in Rome, called the attack "senseless and cowardly" and paid tribute to those killed.
"Let me take this opportunity to offer my condolences to those who lost their lives this morning, the families and friends of those who lost their lives and were injured in this appalling attack," Hammond said. "It reminds us once again of the risks that our personnel take every day in trying to help the Afghans to build a better future for their country and by helping them to do so to protect our own security and our own interests. "
Police said that a car packed with explosives rammed the heavily armored British embassy vehicle, exploding on impact and sending a huge plume of dust and smoke into the air.
The midmorning attack happened on the traffic-choked road between Kabul and Jalalabad city. Witnesses said at least a dozen civilian cars were damaged by the blast, and the road was strewn with smoldering debris from the British vehicle.
Video footage showed the roof of the embassy jeep had been blown off and flung about 15 meters (50 feet) along the road, an indication that it was a powerful blast, as the vehicles are built to withstand substantial impact.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief statement.
In recent weeks, suicide bombers have launched attacks on military convoys and on compounds housing foreign service companies and their international employees.
Thursday's suicide bomb attack is the first on a diplomatic target in Kabul for some time, as most embassies are secured behind high concrete blast walls with razor wire and guards with automatic weapons. The U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Herat was attacked last year and the Indian consulate in the same city was attacked in May this year.
In September 2011, insurgents launched a complex attack involving suicide bombers and gunmen on the diplomatic area of Kabul -- close to the U.S. Embassy and NATO's headquarters -- that lasted around 20 hours and left seven people dead, none of them U.S. citizens.
Kabul has come under almost daily attack as insurgents intensify their war on local security forces and U.S. and NATO troops, who are set to officially conclude their combat role in the country at the end of next month.