Taliban militants detonated explosives and fired rockets in an attempted attack on the Afghan Parliament as lawmakers were preparing to vote on a new defense minister Monday.
A large car bomb exploded near the outer wall of the parliament compound, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky. Six Taliban fighters then tried to storm inside, said police spokesman Ebadullah Karimi.
Afghan security forces managed to fend off the attackers, who then moved into nearby building, firing rockets and AK-47 machine guns. All six attackers were killed in the ensuing firefight, Karimi said.
Lawmakers told the Afghan broadcaster Tolo TV that they and their colleagues were meeting when a huge explosion blew out windows in the building and gunshots rang out. Government officials ran out of the building, they said.
The members of parliament had assembled for a general meeting at which a confidence vote on Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai, the government’s nominee for defense minister, was to be held.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on his Twitter account that the group chose to target the parliament on the day of the defense minister vote.
Afghanistan is bracing for an upsurge in violence as spring begins with militants associating themselves with Islamic State.
Islamic State fighters have reportedly attacked a Taliban convoy in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province, killing at least 10 militants.
Many researchers believe it is the beginning of a long and violent battle for Afghanistan’s control.
Isis claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Saturday, which appears to be the first major attack in Afghanistan by insurgents aligning themselves with the group which has been wreaking havoc across Syria and Iraq.
Siegfried O. Wolf, a South Asia researcher at the University of Heidelberg, believes the ISIS-Taliban battle could be “extremely dangerous for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The Afghan Taliban have sent a letter to Islamic State’s leader urging the rival jihadist group to stop recruiting in Afghanistan, saying there is room for only “one flag, one leadership” in their fight to re-establish strict Islamist rule.
The missive comes amid heavy fighting this week in eastern Afghanistan between the Taliban and breakaway factions who now swear allegiance to Islamic State.