An explosion has hit the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul and unidentified attackers appear to have entered a multi-storey building housing the communications ministry, officials said.
Gunfire could be clearly heard by witnesses in the city centre, but the area around the site was cordoned off by security forces.
“The information that we have is four attackers have placed themselves near the communication ministry and are engaged in gun battles with the Afghan security forces,” Amanduddin Shariati, a security official in Kabul, told AFP news agency.
A witness quoted by the Tolo News television channel said attackers appeared to be fighting security forces on the first floor of the ministry headquarters.
Local television footage showed a small plume of smoke near the ministry, and people climbing out the windows on a lower level.
Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi confirmed there had been gunfire around the ministry of communications and information technology, but provided no further details.
“Around 11:40 am [07:10GMT], an explosion [was] heard near the communication ministry, and sporadic fires have also been heard in the area,” Rahimi said.
One security official, who declined to be identified by name, said the initial blast appeared to have been caused by a suicide bomb at the entry to the ministry.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
The communications ministry is located in Kabul’s second police district, one of the busiest spots in the city, about two kilometres from the green zone.
The explosion was also close to the heavily-fortified Serena Hotel, one of the few hotels still used by foreign visitors, in one of the main commercial areas of the city.
The blast followed several months of relative calm in Kabul, which coincided with talks between the United States and Taliban officials aimed at opening the way for formal peace negotiations to end more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
The attack, just days after a planned meeting between Taliban officials and Afghan politicians and civil society representatives in Qatari capital Doha was cancelled, underlined the hurdles facing efforts to reach a peace settlement.
However, while heavy fighting continues across Afghanistan and Taliban fighters have announced their now-customary spring offensive, there have been no large scale attacks on civilian targets in capital Kabul in recent weeks.