38 killed in deadliest Afghan attack in months

A Taliban attack on a bank in eastern Afghanistan killed 38 people and wounded more than 70 others, officials said Sunday, in the deadliest attack since June last year.

Five suicide bombers dressed in police and army uniforms and armed with machine guns stormed a branch of Kabul Bank in Jalalabad on Saturday, initiating a stand off with security forces that lasted several hours.

Also in the restive east, NATO announced it would sent an assessment team to Kunar province to investigate allegations by the governor that coalition forces killed more than 50 civilians during operations over the past few days.

“Thirty eight people were martyred which includes 21 security forces personnel and 17 civilians” in the bank attack, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told reporters on Sunday.

Another 71 people were wounded, most of them civilians, he said. Jalalabad is the capital town of Nangarhar on the border with Pakistan.

The death toll had previously been given as 18.

While four of the attackers detonated explosives strapped to their bodies, the fifth, a Pakistani resident of the Taliban stronghold in north Waziristan, was arrested by Afghan police, he said.

“He is a Pakistani national from north Waziristan and has confessed to partnering in organising and carrying out the attack,” Bashary said, refusing to give further details for fear of hampering the investigation.

Police and army personnel were collecting their salaries when the attackers dressed in police and army uniform forced their way into the bank, shot the guards and opened fire on the queue.

Among those killed were seven Afghan national army soldiers, while five soldiers were wounded, defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.

Thirteen of those killed were police, said Bashary. A provincial official who refused to be named said one intelligence service worker was also killed.

The deputy provincial police chief and provincial criminal investigation police chief were among the wounded, provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai told AFP.

Two senior officers were taken to Bagram, the main base for US-led forces in Afghanistan, for treatment, he said.

Saturday’s suicide bombing was the third major attack in a week targeting police in Afghanistan, who alongside the army are due to take control of the war-torn country’s security from 2014, allowing most international troops to withdraw.

One man who was in the bank when the attack started, who gave his name as Ewazullah, told AFP that the gunmen were “killing indiscriminately”.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Kunar province, NATO said it would look into allegations by governor Fazlullah Wahidi that 63 people including civilians were killed in a nearly week-long operation against insurgents.

He said at least 20 women, 27 males aged between seven and 20 and three elderly men were among those killed.

Wahidi said 13 insurgents were killed while NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said its reports showed that 36 insurgents died, but said it took the allegations “very seriously”.

Taliban claimed Jalalabad’s deadly attack, which was the deadliest since an attack in southern Kandahar city last June that killed 40 people.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the militant Islamists, who have been fighting international and government forces in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years, were responsible.

A limited withdrawal of foreign forces is expected to start from more stable provinces of Afghanistan from July.

There are currently around 140,000 international forces in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.