Nine Indians among 16 killed in Kabul

KABUL: Taliban suicide bombers targeted guesthouses in downtown Kabul today, killing 16 people including Westerners and Indians in one of the deadliest attacks on foreigners in the Afghan capital.

The Islamist militia, which is waging a bitter insurgency against the US-backed Afghan government and more than 121,000 foreign troops based in the country, claimed responsibility for the attack over phone to AFP.

A car bomb exploded

and two smaller blasts resounded over downtown Kabul, heralding what

police called a “well-planned and coordinated attack” soon after dawn as Afghanistan commemorated the birth of Muslim prophet Mohammed.

The attacks killed 16 people, including an Italian diplomatic adviser, a Frenchman and nine

Indians, officials said. Another 38 people were wounded, including eight foreigners, police said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai “condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Kabul’s Shar-I-Naw area that killed and injured many civilians,” his office said in a statement.

The assault took place near the Park Residence Hotel in the Shar-I-Naw commercial district, where terrified people escaped through windows and climbed down scaffolding, said an AFP photographer and a reporter.

Shattered glass carpeted the road outside the hotel, frequented by Westerners and where many employees come from India. AFP reporters saw at least four

bodies, including one in a police uniform, brought out of the building.

At least three attackers armed with guns and

explosives targeted the Park Residence and the smaller Aria guesthouse on a nearby side street.

“The first explosion took place in front of the Aria... targeting mostly doctors. Subsequently two terrorists, one wearing a suicide vest, entered the Park Residence,” said Kabul police chief General Abdul Rahman Rahman.

After a shootout with the attackers, police stormed into a room where one bomber detonated his explosives, killing three police, Rahman said.

The second bomber

was killed by police,

Rahman added.

Witnesses said the first explosion destroyed a car, threw the engine about 15 metres away, gouging out a huge crater in the road outside the Aria and spraying body parts around the site.

“As per preliminary information provided by Afghan government officials... nine Indians... have lost their lives,” India’s Foreign Minister SM Krishna said. Government officials were among the dead, he added.

The Italian man staying at the Park Residence was killed after giving information by telephone to Afghan police that enabled four other Italians to be evacuated to safety, police said.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the dead man was a diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Frenchman killed

was a film maker who helped set up a studio for young Afghan directors. The Paris-based group Ateliers de Varan — set up in 1981 to help train film makers in

the developing world —

said 66-year-old Severin Blanchet arrived in Kabul on Thursday to launch his latest series of workshops.