Nine people were killed Saturday when three attackers armed with suicide vests and machine-guns stormed a police station in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul, officials said.
The militants, at least one of whom was in army uniform, got into a compound housing the police station in the crowded main central market area, near the Afghan presidential palace, defence ministry and other official buildings.
Five civilians were among the dead along with three policemen and one officer from Afghanistan's intelligence agency, interior ministry spokesman Najib Nikzad said. Ten civilians and two police were wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest embarrassing breach at a supposedly secure location in Kabul, which comes weeks before limited foreign troop withdrawals are due to start from Afghanistan.
One of the attackers detonated his explosives at the entrance to the compound, allowing his two accomplices into the building, the interior ministry said.
Once inside, they fired at police, sparking a gun battle which lasted for around two hours before the pair were killed.
"Three suicide attackers with weapons and explosive vests attacked the police station," Nikzad said.
"One of them detonated himself in front of the gate of the station and two others were killed following a firefight with police,".
"In this incident, three policemen, one intelligence officer and five civilians were killed and two police, along with 10 other civilians were wounded." he added.
The finance ministry said two of its employees who worked nearby were among those who died.
Parts of the city centre were sealed off following the attack and hundreds of people were evacuated.
At least one of the men was dressed in Afghan army uniform, according to local television which showed pictures of what it said was his dead body.
The Taliban have carried out similar brazen attacks in the past against Afghan security forces in Kabul.
These have often been committed by attackers in military uniforms, highlighting the problem of Taliban infiltration of the fast-growing Afghan security forces which are taking increasing control as foreign forces start to withdraw.
Six people were killed at a military hospital by a suicide bomber in military uniform last month, while three died in April when another uniformed attacker opened fire inside the defence ministry.
Control of security in Kabul is already the responsibility of Afghan forces but there is a heavy foreign military and civilian presence in the city.
Foreign forces in seven other parts of Afghanistan are expected to start handing control of security and other official functions to their Afghan counterparts from July.
This will allow the start of a limited withdrawal of foreign troops, although the full extent of this is not yet clear.
US President Barack Obama, whose country provides some 90,000 of the 130,000-strong foreign force in Afghanistan, is expected to announce soon how many will leave from July amid mounting pressure for a big withdrawal.
All international combat forces are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
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