KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two men wearing suicide vests blew themselves up near a U.S. base in Kabul early Wednesday, killing two Afghan guards in the heart of a neighborhood filled with foreign forces and embassies — despite increased security ahead of a Muslim holy day that last year saw one the capital's deadliest attacks.
The bombers apparently meant to target the U.S. base but were spotted by policemen as they approached and detonated their vests before reaching the gate, police said.
The blast reverberated around Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood shortly after 8 a.m. local time. An alarm started going off at the nearby U.S. Embassy, warning staff to take cover. The neighborhood also is home to many high-ranking Afghan officials, international organizations and the headquarters of the international military coalition.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing in an email to reporters.
The attack came as foreign and Afghan forces tightened their watch over the capital ahead of the holy day of Ashoura on Saturday, when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh century death of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.
Last year, the commemoration saw the first major sectarian attack since the fall of the Taliban regime. In that strike, a suicide bomber on foot detonated his vest amid scores of worshippers at a Shiite shrine, killing 56 people and wounding more than 160 others.
Attacks in Kabul are relatively rare and more recent strikes have not been particularly deadly, but have shown the continued ability of the insurgents to penetrate the security cordons that surround the city. The last previous attack before Wednesday's strike took place last week, when insurgents fired four rockets into the city, killing one person. The rockets hit near the airport, a private television station and close to a compound used by the Afghan intelligence service.
Wednesday's bombers were on foot and were spotted by Afghan security guards as they approached Camp Eggers, the Kabul police chief's office said in a statement. The police fired on the attackers and they detonated their vests. Two Afghan security guards were killed and five civilians were injured in the explosion, the statement said.
Associated Press video of the scene shows what looks like an undetonated suicide vest, suggesting not all the explosives went off.
An international coalition vehicle was also damaged in the attack but there were no initial reports of casualties among the foreign forces, said Jamie Graybeal, a NATO troops spokesman.
Police had already set up extra checkpoints around Kabul and specifically near shrines to search cars and people in the run up to the Ashoura.
"All our police units are in the first security alert position," Gen. Mohammad Daoud Amin, the city's deputy police chief, said Tuesday, the day before the Kabul attack. "We are at the service of the people and doing our best to provide good security and prevent any possible incident on Ashoura."