ISIL group has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul on Monday, the group’s website reported.
Sources tell Al Jazeera that fighters are holed up in a building close to the embassy in Shar-e-Naw and a gun battle is under way.
Two fighters “attacked the Iraqi embassy building in the Afghan city of Kabul”, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group said in a statement released on their website “Amaq News Agency”, without providing further details.
Police confirmed the blast had taken place, but said they did not immediately have further information.
“We heard two explosions near the Iraqi embassy and part of the building has been damaged,” Mohsen Negaresh, a witness, told Al Jazeera.
The Iraq embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.
By comparison, the Iraqi embassy is located on a small street in a neighbourhood dominated by markets and businesses.
The attack comes a week after at least 35 people were killed in a Taliban claimed suicide attack on government workers in Kabul and underlines the precarious security in Afghanistan as the US administration considers an overhaul of its policy in the region.
‘No safe haven’ for ISIL
US forces in Afghanistan have repeatedly targeted the group, killing its head Abu Sayed and several senior advisers in a July 11 strike in Kunar, the Pentagon has said.
The decision to deploy the so-called Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) also targeted ISIL hideouts in Nangarhar, according to the Afghan defence ministry, though fighting in the area has continued.
Pentagon officials say the group now numbers fewer than 1,000 in Afghanistan.
“We will be relentless in our campaign against ISIS-K. There are no safe havens in Afghanistan,” said General John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, in a statement Sunday confirming some of the deaths in the July 11 strike.
“We will hunt them down until they are no longer a threat to the Afghan people and the region,” he said.
The group is believed to be on the back foot in the Middle East, where analysts have said it has lost more than 60 percent of its territory and 80 percent of its revenue, three years after declaring its self-styled “caliphate” across swaths of Iraq and Syria.
NATO forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Since then Afghan troops and police, beset by soaring casualties, have struggled to beat back the fighters.
The US is considering whether to send thousands more troops to help the beleaguered Afghan forces as the war-weary country is gripped by increasing insecurity.
Additional reporting by Fatima Faizi in Kabul, follow her on Twitter @FatmaFaizi
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies