Suicide bombings strike Afghan capital Kabul

The blast happened near a shopping centre in Kabul
At least nine people have died in a series of explosions and gunfire in the Afghan capital, Kabul, officials say.

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives and two other attackers were shot dead, a government official said.

A spokesman for the Taliban said the Islamist rebels claimed responsibility for the attacks, carried out close to a shopping centre and a hotel.

Kabul has been the target of sometimes deadly insurgent attacks, but has been relatively quiet for the past month.

On 18 January, Taliban bombers and gunmen attacked government targets and shopping malls in Kabul, killing 12 people.

Crying and shouting
The BBC's Martin Patience, in Kabul, says the first blast happened at 0630 local time (0200 GMT) on Friday, close to a large shopping centre.

Kabul police official Abdul Ghafor Sayedzada said two explosions happened near the nine-storey Kabul City Center shopping area, close to the Safi Landmark Hotel, the Associated Press reported.

A building in front of the hotel had caught fire, he said.

At least two smaller explosions were heard later along with gunfire.

Officials said two policemen had been killed in the attack, and there were reports of others injured. It was not clear whether any foreigners had been killed.

One eyewitness said that he saw one suicide bomber blowing himself up on the first floor of the hotel.

"I saw foreigners were crying and shouting. It was a very bad situation inside. God help me, otherwise I would be dead," one hotel worker, called Najibullah, said.

Sirens blared across the city and announcement from loudspeakers warned people to stay indoors.

It is not clear what exactly was the target of the attack or who carried it out, our correspondent says.

Although the shopping centre is in the heart of Kabul, our correspondent says the timing of the explosion - in the morning at the start of what is effectively the Afghan weekend - meant few people were likely to be in the area.

The violence comes as Nato and Afghan forces continue Operation Moshtarak, driving Taliban fighters from their strongholds in Helmand province, in the south of Afghanistan.
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