KABUL: Eight people were killed as a wave of suicide explosions rocked a British cultural centre in Kabul Friday, a public holiday marking Afghanistan's independence from Britain in 1919.
Five blasts, claimed by the Taliban, struck the British Council offices in Kabul amid bursts of heavy gunfire that began in the early morning and were ongoing four hours later. A fresh explosion hit the area at 10:00am (0530 GMT).
The British Council is an official organisation part-funded by London that promotes cultural relations in offices around the world.
Police said at least the first two blasts were the work of suicide bombers.
"Eight people, mostly police, are killed and 10 others injured," said interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui. "There's one person, one of the attackers who is still alive and resisting. The area has not yet been cleared."
Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai earlier said the dead included two policemen and two street cleaners who had been working nearby when the attackers struck.
The British embassy and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan confirmed that the target was the British Council.
"I can confirm reports of an attack against the British Council compound in Kabul," said an embassy spokesman.
He added that the embassy was co-ordinating with Afghan authorities at the scene but could not provide information on casualties.
An AFP photographer at the scene saw British, US and French forces there, while an AFP reporter witnessed two large ISAF armoured vehicles arriving as helicopters circled.
It was not immediately clear if the helicopters were Afghan or foreign.
An ISAF spokesman, Captain Justin Brockhoff, said the force had sent a "limited number" of troops to the scene.
"We have a very small contribution to the Afghan-led response," he said. Afghan security forces are in overall control of security in Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, contacted by AFP, claimed the militant group leading a 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan was responsible for the attack, which he said was to mark the nation's independence day.
He said the attackers' target was the British Council and a United Nations guest house. But a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Dan McNorton, denied any of its sites was involved.
"Taliban mujahideen stormed these two compounds and heavy fighting is going on with the Afghan police," Mujahid said.
"Today is our independence day from Britain. They recognised our independence 92 years ago, today's attack was marking that day.
"Now the British have invaded our country again and they will recognise our independence day again."
Britain is the second-largest provider of troops to the international military effort fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan after the United States, with around 9,500 forces mainly in the south.
The incident was thought to have started at around 5:45 am (0115 GMT) when an AFP reporter heard two explosions within about 10 minutes of each other.
At the scene was the burning wreckage of a car that had rammed into the wall of the British Council compound and exploded. Ambulances and the emergency services shuttled back and forth rescuing injured people.
"I was asleep when the sound of a heavy explosion woke me up," said eyewitness Mohammad Aber, who lives over the road from the building.
"I went to the roof. I saw a car was on fire, and there was suddenly a second explosion, then the shooting started."
The British Council's website says its work in Kabul is mainly focused on providing support for Afghans wanting to learn English, "for which there is an overwhelming demand".