KABUL, Afghanistan – A suicide bomber wearing a military uniform struck the heavily fortified Interior Ministry compound in the heart of Kabul on Wednesday and killed six police officers, authorities said, in an escalation of Taliban violence aimed at disrupting this weekend's presidential election.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the bomber got through several checkpoints to reach the ministry gate before detonating his explosives. An Interior Ministry statement said the bomber was among other men in uniform entering the compound.
Within minutes of the blast, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack. It came soon after he issued an emailed statement to the media warning of more violence ahead of Saturday's presidential elections.
Mohammad Karim, who was walking toward the gate to leave the compound, said he was blown back by the force of the blast. Police then rushed him and others into a safe room.
Police officer Baryalai, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said the blast occurred near a bank that is located close to the entrance gate. Police officers collect their paychecks at the bank.
Farida Hashimi, a female police commander, wept for the policemen killed in the explosion. -- including one named Tamim.
"One of the police who died was my friend. They were all my colleagues, but Tamim was my friend, my brother," she said at the site of the explosion. Hashimi criticized the lax security that allowed the bomber to walk past three different check posts.
In Mujahid's earlier warning, he told Afghans to stay away from Saturday's vote, saying election workers and polling centers would be targeted. The Interior Ministry primarily has responsibility for securing the elections. Several recent high-profile attacks also have threatened to undermine the results by scaring voters away.
Hashimi said the Interior ministry explosion did not bode well for the elections. Afghans will worry about the ability of Afghanistan's security officials to protect polling stations, she said, when they are unable to protect their own headquarters.
"It will have a very bad effect on the elections," Hashemi said. "Or course people will wonder how they can keep polling places safe if a bomber can enter this very important government compound."
Earlier Wednesday, an Afghan official said Taliban gunmen killed nine people, including a candidate running for a seat in the provincial council, who had been abducted in northern Afghanistan.
Sar-i-Pul Provincial Governor Abdul Jabar Haqbeen said authorities received word that the candidate, Hussain Nazari, and the others were killed overnight by their abductors. They were seized by the Taliban three days ago while traveling to the provincial capital.
No group has claimed responsibility.
Haqbeen said they recovered four bodies and one man who was wounded, while the five other bodies, including the candidate's, were in a remote area and have yet to be found.
Haqbeen says authorities were told that Nazari and two others were beheaded.