A Taliban suicide attacker targeted a popular shopping mall in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday, killing two guards and wounding at least two other people, officials said.
Interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP that the attacker blew himself up after he was stopped at the gates of the Kabul City Centre, Afghanistan's first modern-style indoor shopping complex that opened in 2005.
"It was a single blast. A suicide bomber tried to enter the mall. He was stopped by the guards at the entrance, he blew himself up and killed the two armed private guards and injured two other people nearby," he said.
The bombing underscored the prevailing insecurity in Kabul, where the Taliban claimed the attack following a string of other assaults on shops and guesthouses frequented by Westerners in the last year.
"Two people, both guards of City Centre, have been killed and two other people are injured," Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told reporters.
A senior police official earlier told AFP that an explosion had targeted the mall and that gunmen had stormed inside, where they were exchanging fire with government security forces.
"There was an explosion at the entrance of Kabul City Centre. There are gunshots being heard right now as I'm heading off towards it," Mohammad Zahir, Kabul police criminal investigation chief, told AFP.
An AFP reporter at the scene said the entrance to the mall had been blown up and that dozens of police had sealed off the area.
The mall boosted security and required visitors to undergo a body search after a Taliban attack on a nearby guesthouse in February 2010 killed 16 people, including one French national, one Italian and seven Indians.
Made of shimmering glass, the multi-storey Kabul City Center is equipped with escalators and see-through elevators.
The top six floors of the mall belong to the Safi Landmark Hotel, which is owned by a Dubai-based hotel and resort company, and frequented by Westerners.
It was the first major attack in the Afghan capital since eight people died in a suicide bombing on a supermarket near the British embassy on January 28.
Security in the capital is managed by Afghan forces.
On August 10, two suicide bombers attacked a Kabul guesthouse of a British private security company, killing two drivers and wounding a guard.
In December 2009, at least eight people were killed and 40 were wounded in a suicide bombing near a hotel hosting foreigners.
On 28 October the same year, the Taliban had attacked a UN guesthouse, killing eight people including five foreign employees of the United Nations.
In January 2008 a suicide attack against the Serena Hotel, the city's most luxurious and frequented by foreigners, left eight dead.