A Taliban suicide bomb attack that targeted guesthouses in Kabul on Friday, killing 16 people including Westerners and Indians, was one of the deadliest attacks on foreigners in the Afghan capital.
It was the third major attack on Indians in Kabul in less than two years, and drew strong condemnation from the country's Foreign Minister SM Krishna.
"India strongly condemns the attack. This is the third attack on Indian officials and interests in Afghanistan in the past 20 months," he said, referring to two previous car bomb attacks on its embassy in Kabul.
An Indian foreign ministry official confirmed nine Indians, including embassy officials, had died in the attack, launched by three militants around dawn on Friday.
The official said the toll "could be more".
Taliban suicide bombers targeted two guesthouses in central Kabul known to be frequented by foreigners.
One was known locally as the "Indian guesthouse," and was occupied by Indian doctors and paramedics working at a Kabul hospital funded by New Delhi, an Indian embassy official said.
Also killed were a French film director and an Italian who worked as an adviser to the Rome government. Three Afghan policemen were also killed, officials said.
The attack was launched around dawn when militants armed with guns and explosives targeted the Park Residence and the smaller Aria guesthouse on a nearby side street in Kabul's commercial district of Shar-I-Naw.
"The first explosion took place in front of the Aria... targeting mostly doctors. Subsequently two terrorists, one wearing a suicide vest, entered the Park Residence," said Kabul police chief General Abdul Rahman Rahman.
After a shootout with the attackers, police stormed into a room where one bomber detonated his explosives, killing three police officers, Rahman said.
The second bomber was killed by police, he added.
Witnesses said the first explosion destroyed a car, throwing the engine about 15 metres and gouging out a huge crater in the road outside the Aria and spraying body parts around the site.
The Italian man was killed after giving information by telephone to Afghan police that enabled four other Italians to be evacuated to safety, police said.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the dead man was a diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Kabul's Shar-I-Naw area that killed and injured many civilians," his office said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon led the international outrage.
"The Secretary General strongly condemns the attacks that took place in Kabul this morning," a UN statement said.
"This deliberate targeting of civilians demonstrates once again a senseless disregard for human life on the part of the perpetrators."
Two diplomats and two security guards from India were killed in a massive car bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 that claimed 60 lives in total.
Another blast there in October last year killed 12 people but all Indians inside the heavily fortified complex were safe.
New Delhi had blamed "elements in Pakistan" for the July 2008 bombing and hinted at the involvement of Pakistani militants "and their patrons residing across the border" for the October attack.
India has been heavily involved in reconstruction and aid efforts in war-torn Afghanistan, extending more than one billion dollars in assistance since the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001.