Friday, Jan. 17, 2014 | 11:28 a.m.
KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban suicide bomber and two gunmen on Friday attacked a Lebanese restaurant that is popular with foreigners and affluent Afghans in Kabul, a brazen attack that left 16 dead, including foreigners dining inside and two other gunmen, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility within an hour of the attack against La Taverna du Liban, part of a stepped up a campaign of violence against foreign and government interests to send a message that they're not going anywhere as the U.S.-led coalition winds down its combat mission at the end of the year.
The attack began with a suicide bomber detonating his explosives in or near the restaurant, which is located in an area housing several embassies, nongovernmental organizations and Afghan officials, according to security officials. Guards then killed the two other attackers in a gunbattle that lasted nearly half an hour.
Kabul police chief Gen. Mohammad Zahir Zahir said the 14 people killed were all inside the restaurant, located in the diplomatic quarter in central Wazir Akbar Khan area. He said foreigners and Afghans were among the dead, but he did not provide a breakdown.
The restaurant, like most facilities that are frequented by foreign diplomats, aid workers, journalists and businessmen in the war-weary country, has no signs indicating its location and is heavily secured. It sits on a small side street just off a bumpy semi-paved road in a house with low ceilings and an enclosed patio but has no windows.
Bags of dirt are piled up around it to act as blast walls and guests must go through a series of steel airlocks, where they are searched, before entering. The surrounding area is full of police and security guards to protect against insurgent attacks, which have increased in recent months around the country.
Officials said at least four other people were wounded. Police at the scene did not allow reporters near the restaurant as they rushed to help the wounded and ensure there were no more gunmen.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said security guards killed the two other attackers.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said targeted foreign officials dining at what he described as a "hotel."
"There was a suicide attack on a foreign hotel where special foreign invaders are coming for dinner. In this attack an explosive was used which was very strong and heavy casualties and massive destruction happened," he said.
Zabihullah said the targets of the attack included "high-ranking German officials." In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the report. The Taliban frequently provide exaggerated casualty figures.
Insurgents have frequently targeted foreign interests around the country and in Kabul. The Taliban have stepped up a campaign of violence in recent months after foreign forces handed over control of security for the country to the Afghan army and police ahead of their full withdrawal by the end of 2014.