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Gunmen storm refugee aid department in eastern Afghanistan

Gunmen stormed an government building after multiple explosions in an attack in Jalalabad that killed at least a dozen people, the latest in a series 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, spokesperson for the governor of Nangarhar province.

Several foreign organizations are also in the vicinity.

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.

Fifteen people were killed and at least as many injured, Tolo News reported local provincial officials as saying. At least 11 people were hospitalized and one of the attackers survived, Pajhwok Afghan News said.

Khogyani said the casualties included a woman and a police officer. Three of the attackers were killed, he added.

Reuters reported that the attackers took dozens of people hostage, citing a provincial council member, Sohrab Qaderi as saying that at least 40 people were believed to be inside. One hostage called security services and said that attackers told people inside the building not to move, he added.

“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.

Photos posted on social media purportedly showed a plume of thick, black smoke rising 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 U.S. and Afghan forces continue offensives against militants.

Most of the attacks were claimed by Islamic State-Khorasan Province, which has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, mainly in the east and north.

The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations is tasked with repatriating and reintegrating Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons. It is not clear why the militants targeted the department, but government buildings are frequently hit.

Khogyani said the attack happened during an NGO meeting on refugee issues, Reuters reported.

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 ISKP on a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad on July 1 killed 19 people and wounded 21.

ISKP first emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 and quickly established a stronghold in Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.

Intensified aerial and ground operations against the militants have failed to dislodge them.

Turning east: the rise of Islamic State’s Khorasan Province

With reporting from AFP

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