KABUL — A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Kabul restaurant filled with foreigners and affluent Afghans, while two gunmen snuck in through the back door and opened fire Friday in a brazen dinnertime attack that killed 16 people, including three UN personnel, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility within an hour of the attack against La Taverna du Liban, part of a stepped-up campaign of violence against foreign and government interests to send a message that the militants are not going anywhere as the US-led coalition winds down its combat mission at the end of the year.
The bombing served as a reminder that although militant violence in the capital has dropped off in recent months, insurgents remain capable of carrying out attacks inside the most heavily guarded areas.
Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said the assault began with the suicide bomber detonating his explosives at the front door of the restaurant, located in an area that houses several embassies, non-governmental organizations, and the homes and offices of Afghan officials. As chaos ensued, the two other attackers entered through the kitchen and began shooting. They were killed by security guards, said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi.
Kabul police chief General Mohammad Zahir Zahir said the 16 people killed were all inside the restaurant. He said foreigners and Afghans were among the dead, but he did not provide a breakdown. Officials said at least four people were wounded.
‘‘I strongly condemn the targeting of civilians in any form, and, in particular, the continued use of suicide bombers,’’ said the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubis. ‘‘This violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately.’’
Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed late Friday that a British national was among the dead.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States condemns ‘‘this despicable act of terrorism in the strongest possible terms.’’ She said information about the attack is still coming in, but all US Embassy personnel are accounted for.
The restaurant, like most facilities that are frequented by foreign diplomats, aid workers, journalists, and businessmen in the war-weary country, has no signs and is heavily secured. Located in the diplomatic quarter of the central Wazir Akbar Khan area, the restaurant is on a small side street off a bumpy semi-paved road in a house with low ceilings and an enclosed patio but 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.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said targeted foreign officials dining at what he described as a ‘‘hotel.’’