KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban insurgents attacked a compound housing foreigners in the Afghan capital Wednesday, killing seven people, hours after President Barack Obama made a surprise visit and signed a pact governing the U.S. presence after combat troops withdraw.
The Taliban said the attack was a response to Obama's visit, which coincided with Wednesday's anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan.
It was the second major assault in Kabul in less than three weeks and highlighted the Taliban's continued ability to strike in the heavily guarded capital even when security had been tightened security for the high profile events.
Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base late Tuesday, then traveled in to Kabul by helicopter for a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in which they signed the agreement. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with a speech broadcast to Americans back home.
The violence began around 6 a.m. in eastern Kabul with a series of explosions and gunfire ringing out from the privately guarded compound known as Green Village that houses hundreds of international contractors.
Shooting and blasts shook the city for hours as militants who had stormed into the compound held out against security forces, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
A local witness said the attackers were disguised in burqas — the head-to-toe robes worn by conservative Afghan women.
"A vehicle stopped here and six people wearing burqas entered the alley carrying black bags in their hands. When they entered the alley, there was an explosion," said Abdul Manan.
At least seven people were killed, according to the Interior Ministry. It also said 17 were wounded, most Afghan children on their way to school.
The area appeared to have calmed down by about 10 a.m. and NATO said all the attackers had been killed. The gate at the entrance of the Green Village was destroyed, with the wreckage of the suicide bomber's car sitting in front. The road running past the compound was littered with shoes, books, school supplies and the bloody ID card of a student from a nearby school.
The suicide car bomb that exploded near Jalalabad road — one of the main thoroughfares out of the city — was among the first blasts, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. A station wagon that was driving past was caught up in the explosion and four people inside were killed, Sediqi said. A passer-by and a Nepalese security guard were also killed, said Kabul Deputy Police Chief Daoud Amin. The seventh death was not identified.
A young man who saw the explosion said the dead pedestrian was one of his fellow classmates.
"I was walking to school when I saw a very big explosion. A car exploded and flames went very high into the air," said 21-year-old Mohammad Wali. "Then I saw a body of one of my classmates lying on the street. I knew it was a suicide attack and ran away. I was so afraid."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.
"This was a message to Obama that those are not real Afghans that are signing documents about this country," Mujahid said. "The real Afghan nation are those people that are not letting foreign invaders stay in this country or disrespect the dignity of our country."
However, because such complex attacks usually take significant advance planning, it also was possible that the Taliban were capitalizing on fortunate timing. Mujahid said the target was a "foreign military base."
NATO forces spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff said no NATO bases came under attack.
The Green Village complex, with its towering blast walls and heavily armed security force, is very similar in appearance to NATO bases in the city. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw a group of Afghan soldiers enter the Green Village compound, after which heavy shooting could be heard coming from inside.
Outside the complex, men could be seen carrying a wounded man covered with blood, apparently pulled out of the flames engulfing a nearby car.
"These people evacuated a man from the burning car, two bodies are laying there now and three or four other victims were evacuated from the school," said Ahmad Zia, a resident who saw the explosion.
Green Village was also the target of anti-foreigner protests following the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base in February. At that time, violent protests raged outside, but the angry crowds did not breach the compound's defenses.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.