KABUL, Afghanistan - Underscoring the deteriorating security situation in the Afghan capital, a suicide bomber managed Thursday to make his way into a heavily guarded government ministry in the city center and set off a powerful explosion. At least five other people were killed and more than a dozen people hurt.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which President Hamid Karzai's office condemned as "heinous."
The scene at the Information and Culture Ministry was one of chaos after the blast, with officials shouting and police muscling bystanders away. Broken glass was sprayed onto the busy street, which is lined with shops. One side of the ministry building collapsed, and the aqua-colored front gates were bent by the force of the explosion.
Authorities said as many as two other assailants were believed to have taken part in the attack but apparently escaped. The death toll provided by officials differed, but by day's end Karzai's office said five "civilians" - people other than the bomber - were killed in the explosion.
Witnesses and officials gave varying accounts of how the bombing unfolded. There was an exchange of gunfire at the ministry's entrance about 11 a.m., shortly before the explosion rocked its main hall, according to police.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said three attackers took part in the bombing. He said they made their way through the main gate by throwing hand grenades at the guards. It was not clear how the attackers managed to approach the building. Security in the area is heavy; the presidential palace is only a few hundred yards away.
In the past two weeks, three foreigners have been gunned down in the capital. One was a Briton who worked for Christian charity, and the others, a South African and a Briton, were the two top officials in Afghanistan for the DHL shipping service.