An attack in which five suicide bombers dressed in security force uniforms stormed a bank in eastern Afghanistan and killed 38 people is a sign that insurgents are increasingly going after “soft targets,” the government has said.
The bombing – just as many members of the Afghan security forces were collecting their pay – was evidence that militants are seeking to attack places that are not heavily barricaded and fortified government buildings or military compounds, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.
“Unfortunately, we see that there’s a change of tactic in the terrorist attacks and they are targeting soft targets,” Mr Bashary said at a news conference in Kabul.
Two recent attacks in Kabul also reflected the tactical change, he said. A suicide bomber attacked a supermarket in Kabul on January 28, killing eight civilians, and one attacked a Western-style shopping mall on February 14, killing two security guards.
“In these kind of places – like city centre in Kabul and Kabul Bank in Jalalabad – these are all areas where mostly people are going to do daily business,” he said. “No-one would expect that they would attack such places like a bank or shopping mall,” Mr Bashary said.
Among those killed in Saturday’s attack on a branch of Kabul Bank in Jalalabad were 21 members of the Afghan national security forces. The other 17 killed were civilians. A total of 71 people, mostly civilians, were injured, he said.
“Five armed suicide bombers entered the Kabul Bank building and started shooting,” Mr Bashary said. “The incident happened while Afghan security forces were there to get their monthly salaries. That is why the casualties were so high.”
Since no-one is allowed inside the bank with weapons, none of the Afghan policemen or soldiers collecting their pay had weapons to defend themselves.
He said bank guards tried to prevent the militants from entering the building. A gun battle broke out between the guards and the militants, who were all wearing suicide vests.
During the fight, four of the attackers were killed and their suicide vests detonated. The fifth suicide attacker – a man from North Waziristan in Pakistan – was arrested and his vest was defused, Mr Bashary said.