JALALABAD: Seven Afghan troops were killed on Wednesday when militants launched an hours-long gun and bomb siege targeting the Pakistani consulate here, just days after four-country talks in Islamabad aimed at reviving peace negotiations with Taliban.
The militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack on the consulate, stoking fears over the spread of the ultra-radical movement in Afghanistan.
The attack is the latest in a spate of violence this month, raising concerns of a tough year ahead for Afghanistan as the Taliban may escalate their attacks, possibly in order to enter into peace negotiations from a position of strength.
The brazen assault sent terrified young students in an adjacent school fleeing the area which is also close to the Indian diplomatic mission.
“Seven of our security forces were killed and seven others wounded as a result of the terrorist attack,” interior ministry’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter four hours after the attack started.
Afghan troops killed all gunmen holed up in an empty government guesthouse near the consulate, where they had traded heavy gunfire with soldiers after a suicide bombing in the area, officials said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office condemned the attack and said it was in contact with its embassy in Kabul as well as Afghan officials.
Observers say the intensifying fighting highlights a push by the militants to gain greater concessions during any future direct talks.
Afghan officials said all three attackers and at least seven members of the security forces died during the attack by the IS, which hitherto had not struck high-profile Pakistani targets in Afghanistan.
“This is a major concern for us if they carry out more attacks like this,” an Afghan security official said. “We have enough problems to deal with already.”
Nangarhar, the province in which Jalalabad is located, has become the main Afghan stronghold of IS, which has battled the Taliban for leadership of the Islamist insurgency, attracting many former Taliban militants.
Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said a suicide bomber had tried to join a queue of people seeking visas to Pakistan and blew himself up after having been prevented from entering the building.
Witnesses in Jalalabad, the main trade gateway to the Khyber Pass and Pakistan, said heavy gunfire and a series of explosions could be heard during a battle that lasted several hours, and residents and children from a nearby school were evacuated.
The IS said on its official Telegram messaging service channel that three members wearing suicide-bomb vests carried out the attack, which it said had killed dozens of people, including “several Pakistani intelligence officers”. It said two suicide attackers had been killed while a third escaped.
Pakistan said all members of the consulate staff were safe, with one official slightly injured by broken glass.
“This is first attack claimed by IS against the state of Pakistan,” Mohammad Amir Rana, a Pakistani security analyst, told AFP. “This is a highly symbolic attack as the Pakistani consulate is a high-profile installation in Jalalabad.”
The attack carried echoes of one last week on the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, when a group of assailants barricaded themselves in a house and resisted security forces for about 24 hours after a suicide bombing.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2016