Taliban gunmen who killed 46 people at an Afghan court complex in a bid to free insurgents standing trial moved ruthlessly from room to room, shooting everyone they found, officials recounted Thursday.
Defenseless civilians, judges, lawyers and court staff were left dead after nine militants disguised as Afghan soldiers launched an eight-hour assault on Wednesday which only ended after security forces finally killed the last surviving gunman.
Taliban fighters frequently target government compounds, but the unprecedented massacre at a court house in the remote province of Farah raised new fears about the insurgency’s strength as NATO forces withdraw from the battlefield.
Three attackers died when their explosive-laden vehicle, stolen from the Afghan army, drove into the entrance of the court in Farah city early Wednesday.
The vehicle detonated in a huge blast when they refused to stop and police opened fire, deputy governor of Farah province Mohammad Younus Rasouli told AFP.
Six other attackers, disguised as Afghan soldiers, entered the court buildings and the attorney general’s office next door.
“They had 10 hand grenades each and lots of bullets. They smashed down each door and shot anyone in each room, one by one,” Rasouli said. “Everybody, all the attorneys and judges and anyone else. All were unarmed, defenseless.”
The governor of Farah, Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, said 36 civilians were killed, including four lawyers and four judges. Ten security force personnel were also killed and 95 to 100 people wounded, he added.
“Many people were stranded in the buildings. After they were rescued, the police and army started the operation to hunt down the attackers,” Khpalwak told AFP. “Ten security force personnel died during the day.”
The court was due to put Taliban militants on trial when the attack took place. The militants claimed to have freed 13 of its members, but Khpalwak told AFP that 12 Taliban prisoners at the court were taken back to jail.
Wakil Ahmad, a doctor at Farah hospital, said on Wednesday that one court prisoner was among those treated for injuries.
The attack in Farah, a province that borders Iran, was the deadliest attack for more than a year in Afghanistan and comes as NATO forces who have fought the Taliban since 2001 start to pull out.
The Afghan police and army are being handed increased responsible for quelling the insurgency before all NATO combat missions finish at the end of next year, with many fearful that the country could tip into further instability.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the assault as a “massacre” and said Afghans would “not let such killings of Muslims by the Taliban go unpunished.”
Karzai, in the official English translation of his statement, described Wednesday’s violence as “genocide.”
The Taliban released a statement celebrating a “successful martyrdom attack,” and said it was a carefully-planned operation launched after receiving intelligence about the trial.
“ANA and ANP (army and police) forces tried to raid the buildings multiple times but were repelled by mujahideen, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy,” the Taliban said in an Internet statement.
Much of the international military effort to defeat the Taliban has concentrated on the south and east of Afghanistan since the Islamist extremists were ousted in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S..
However, the bloodshed of the Farah attack has added to concerns that the militia is increasingly widening its attacks outside its main powerbases as international military support for the Kabul government is scaled down.