A group of heavily armed Taliban suicide bombers stormed Afghanistan’s parliament Monday as the House was in session to decide whether to endorse Defense Minister-designate Masoom Stanekzai.
Witnesses reported a series of explosions and gunfire from inside the building following the raid. The attack began with a massive blast at the main gate.
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi says seven Taliban gunmen with explosives strapped to their bodes took part in the attack and security forces killed all of them, ending a siege that lasted nearly two hours.
The minister says no lawmakers were hurt, but officials say at least 30 other people were wounded, including five women and three children – some seriously.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the group was behind what he called a suicide mission aimed at members of the “slave” parliament.
The U.S. Embassy strongly condemned the attack saying in a statement that it “shows blatant disrespect for democracy and the rule of law.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families at this time,” the statement said, expressing sympathy to the Members of Parliament who were targeted in the attack.
Television footage showed heavy smoke coming out of the area where the parliament building is located, with Afghan soldiers and police deployed on roads leading to the site.
Afghan media circulated pictures from inside the parliament showing the main hall full of smoke and lawmakers rushing outside.
The area where Monday’s attack took place also houses offices of foreign aid organizations and diplomatic missions.
Reacting to news of the attack, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, told the Security Council Monday greater regional cooperation is necessary to address the threat.
“Foreign fighters from Afghanistan’s northern neighbors and elsewhere present a particular challenge,” Haysom said. “There also remains considerable concern that ISIL, referred to in Afghanistan as Da’esh, is seeking to establish a foothold.”
The Taliban attack happened a day after the insurgent group captured a key district in the northern Kunduz province and Afghan security forces are battling the insurgents just outside the provincial capital.