At least 14 people were killed, including foreigners, in a multiple Taliban suicide attack on a popular restaurant in Kabul on Friday, officials said, with two gunmen launching an "indiscriminate" killing spree inside the venue.
The assault on the Taverna du Liban in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood was quickly claimed by Taliban militants fighting against the Afghan government and US-led foreign forces in the country.
Deputy interior minister Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told AFP that two of the attackers forced their way into the heavily guarded restaurant after an initial explosion at about 7:30 pm.
"At least 14 people have been killed, both foreigners and Afghans. One suicide attacker detonated himself outside the restaurant and two others got inside indiscriminately killing people," Salangi said.
The long-established Taverna is a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, consultants, aid workers and Afghans, and is likely to have been busy with customers on Friday, the weekly holiday in Afghanistan.
Like many restaurants in Kabul, it runs strict security checks with diners patted down by armed guards and passing through at least two steel doors before gaining entry.
"I was sitting with my friends in the kitchen when an explosion happened and smoke filled the kitchen," kebab cook Abdul Majid told AFP while being treated for leg fractures in a nearby hospital.
"A man came inside shouting and he started shooting. One of my colleagues was shot and fell down. I ran to the roof and threw myself to the neighboring property."
Elite security commandos rushed to seal off the small streets around the restaurant as sporadic gunfire erupted for a short time after the blast.
The venue has an enclosed outside seating area which is heated in the harsh Afghan winter, and customers often share a tobacco shisha pipe after their meal.
"There were three attackers. All have been killed. Unfortunately, 14 people have also been killed, including some foreigners," city police chief Mohammad Zahir told reporters.
The Taliban's main spokesman claimed the attack targeted the restaurant deliberately.
"As a result of a martyrdom attack on a foreign restaurant in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul, a large number of foreign occupiers, most of them Germans, have suffered casualties," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in emailed statement.
The Taliban often makes incorrect claims about death tolls and the nationalities of those affected.
BBC reported the United Nations said four of its staff are unaccounted for after the attack.
The United States and British embassies are among those situated in Wazir Akbar Khan, though neither was directly affected by the attack.
The Afghan capital has often been hit by suicide and other bomb attacks, with the most recent incident last Sunday when a Taliban suicide bomber riding a bicycle detonated himself next to a police bus, killing a policeman and a civilian.
Afghanistan's intelligence agency has claimed to have foiled several plots in the capital involving truck bombs and suicide gunmen over the past year.
A series of attacks in 2013 targeted foreign compounds, the Supreme Court, the airport and the presidential palace in Kabul.
NATO forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, but negotiations have stalled on a security accord that would allow some US and NATO troops to stay after 2014.
The bilateral security agreement (BSA) would see several thousand US troops remain in Afghanistan to provide training and assistance in the battle against the Taliban.
Afghanistan's fledgling security forces face a difficult year in 2014 as insurgents attempt to disrupt elections on April 5 that will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, and as NATO's combat mission winds down by December.