Kabul (AFP) - Taliban suicide attackers killed at least 14 people, most of them foreigners, in Kabul on Friday when one bomber blew himself up outside a popular restaurant and two gunmen stormed inside, mowing down staff and diners.
The assault on the Taverna du Liban in the upmarket neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan was quickly claimed by Taliban militants fighting against the Afghan government and US-led foreign forces in the country.
Deputy interior minister Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told AFP that two of the attackers forced their way into the heavily guarded restaurant after an initial explosion at about 7:30 pm.
"At least 14 people have been killed. One suicide attacker detonated himself outside the restaurant and two others got inside indiscriminately killing people," Salangi said.
Police and government officials said most of the victims were foreigners, but their nationalities were not confirmed. All three attackers died in the assault.
Four United Nations' employees were feared dead in the attack, a UN statement said, and the British embassy was investigating reports that a British national was among the fatalities.
Staff and relatives told AFP that the restaurant owner was also killed trying the fend off the attackers.
The long-established Taverna has been a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, consultants, aid workers and Afghans, and is likely to have been busy with customers on Friday, the weekly holiday in Afghanistan.
Like many restaurants in Kabul, it ran strict security checks with diners patted down by armed guards and passing through at least two steel doors before gaining entry.
'Smoke filled the kitchen'
"I was sitting with my friends in the kitchen when an explosion happened and smoke filled the kitchen," kebab cook Abdul Majid told AFP while being treated for leg fractures in a nearby hospital.
"A man came inside shouting and he started shooting. One of my colleagues was shot and fell down. I ran to the roof and threw myself to the neighbouring property."
Elite security commandos rushed to seal off the small streets around the restaurant as sporadic gunfire erupted for a short time after the blast.
The venue has an enclosed outside seating area which is heated in the harsh Afghan winter, and customers often share a tobacco shisha pipe after their meal.
The Taliban's main spokesman claimed the attack targeted the restaurant deliberately.
"As a result of a martyrdom attack on a foreign restaurant in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul, a large number of foreign occupiers, most of them Germans, have suffered casualties," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in emailed statement.
The Taliban often make incorrect claims about death tolls and the nationalities of those affected. The German embassy was not immediately available to comment.
The United States and British embassies are among those situated in Wazir Akbar Khan, though neither was directly affected by the attack.
"We condemn, of course, the despicable act of terrorism in the strongest possible terms," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington.
The Afghan capital has often been hit by suicide and other bomb attacks, with the most recent incident last Sunday when a Taliban suicide bomber riding a bicycle detonated himself next to a police bus, killing a policeman and a civilian.
Afghanistan's intelligence agency has said it has foiled several plots in the capital involving truck bombs and suicide gunmen over the past year.
A series of attacks in 2013 targeted foreign compounds, the Supreme Court, the airport and the presidential palace in Kabul. Foreign guesthouses, luxury hotels and vehicle convoys have also been hit in the past.
NATO forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, but negotiations have stalled on a security accord that would allow some US and NATO troops to stay after 2014.
The bilateral security agreement (BSA) would see several thousand US troops remain in Afghanistan to provide training and assistance in the battle against the Taliban.
Afghanistan's fledgling security forces face a difficult year in 2014 as insurgents attempt to disrupt elections on April 5 that will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, and as NATO's combat mission winds down by December.