Gunmen stormed a government building after multiple explosions in an ongoing attack in Jalalabad on Tuesday that has left at least eight people wounded, the latest in a series of assaults in the eastern Afghan city.
At least two blasts were heard before the attackers entered the compound of the refugees and repatriations department, said Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province.
Several foreign organisations are also in the vicinity.
“Security forces have been deployed to the site to kill the terrorists and rescue those people who are stuck inside the department,” Khogyani said.
A number of people have been taken hostage by the attackers, said Zabiullah Zmarary, a provincial council member.
“We don’t know the exact number,” he added.
Before the attack began representatives of foreign donors and agencies were meeting department employees inside the building, Khogyani said.
It is not clear if the meeting was still under way when the attackers entered the compound.
At least eight people have been wounded and a “large number” of employees had been rescued, Khogyani said.
“I saw a black Corolla car drop three armed men at the gate of the refugees and repatriations department,” a witness told AFP.
At least one of the men blew himself up at the gate and two others entered the building, the witness said.
An AFP reporter could hear gunfire as security forces swarmed into the area, and a plume of thick, black smoke rose into the sky above the department compound.
The Taliban denied involvement in the attack in a WhatsApp message sent to journalists.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which comes three days after militants raided a midwife training centre in Jalalabad.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack that left at least three people dead and several wounded.
Jalalabad has been the scene of multiple attacks in recent months that have killed dozens, as US and Afghan forces continue offensives against militants.
– Civilians under attack –
The latest attack in Jalalabad came as a roadside bomb which hit a passenger bus in the western province of Farah killed at least eight people and wounded about 40.
In a separate incident, 22 passengers travelling on a Kabul-bound bus in the eastern province of Paktia were kidnapped by gunmen on Monday night.
Officials blamed the Taliban for both incidents.
Most of the attacks in Jalalabad have been claimed by IS, which has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, mainly in the east and north.
It is not clear why the militants targeted the refugees and repatriations department, but government buildings are frequently hit.
On July 11 gunmen raided an education department compound in Jalalabad, sparking an hours-long battle with security forces.
At least 11 people were killed in the attack. All were employees of the education department branch and included the director.
A suicide bomb attack claimed by IS on a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad on July 1 killed 19 people and wounded 21.
IS first emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 and quickly established a stronghold in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.
Intensified aerial and ground operations against the militants have failed to dislodge them.