2 Canadians among 16 killed in Taliban attack in Afghanistan

Two Canadians are among the 16 people killed in a brazen attack outside a popular Lebanese restaurant in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul on Friday.

Taliban claim responsibility for attack at restaurant in diplomatic quarter of Kabul

Afghan police forces assist an injured man at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on Friday. The Taliban have claimed responsibility. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)

Two Canadians are among the 16 people killed in a brazen attack outside a popular Lebanese restaurant in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul on Friday.

They were not Canadian government officials or members of the military.

"Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms the targeted, cowardly terrorist attack today on a restaurant in Kabul," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.

Citing privacy concerns, Baird said no further information on the deceased Canadians would be made available.

The attack also killed four UN civilian staff and an International Monetary Fund representative, the organizations confirmed Friday afternoon.

Officials say a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Kabul restaurant filled with foreigners and affluent Afghans having dinner, while two gunmen entered through the back door and opened fire. 

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned Friday's attack "in the strongest terms," his spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.

4 UN employees killed

"Four United Nations personnel, along with a number of those from other international organizations, are now confirmed dead," Haq said.

"Such targeted attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law. They must stop immediately," Haq added.

The IMF representative in Afghanistan, Wabel Abdallah, was also among those killed, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said in a statement. The 60-year-old from Lebanon was appointed to the position in 2008.

"This is tragic news, and we at the fund are all devastated," Lagarde said in the statement. "Our hearts go out to Wabel’s family and friends, as well as the other victims of this attack."

The latest deaths follow the departure of a large group of Canadian soldiers. About 80 Canadian troops who had been part of a training mission left Afghanistan on Friday.

There are now fewer than 200 Canadian troops remaining in Kabul. The training mission will be completed by March 31.

U.S. condemns 'despicable act of terrorism'

The Taliban claimed responsibility within an hour of the attack against La Taverna du Liban, part of a stepped-up campaign of violence against foreign and government interests to send a message that they're not going anywhere as the U.S.-led coalition winds down its combat mission at the end of the year. All three attackers also died.

The assault began with the suicide bomber detonating his explosives at the front door of the restaurant, which is located in an area housing several embassies, non-governmental organizations and Afghan officials, according to security officials.

As chaos ensued, the two other attackers entered through the kitchen and began shooting. They were later killed by guards, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

Afghan and foreign security forces arrive at the site of the suicide attack in central Kabul. (Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press)

Kabul police chief Gen. Mohammad Zahir Zahir said the 16 people killed were all inside the restaurant, located in the diplomatic quarter in central Wazir Akbar Khan area. He said foreigners and Afghans were among the dead, but he did not provide a breakdown.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday the U.S. condemns "this despicable act of terrorism in the strongest possible terms." She said that information about the attack is still coming in, but all U.S. Embassy personnel are accounted for.

Deputy Afghan Interior Minister Ayoub Salangai said in a tweet that the dead included four women.

The restaurant, like most facilities that are frequented by foreign diplomats, aid workers, journalists and businessmen in the war-weary country, has no signs indicating its location and is heavily secured. It sits on a small side street just off a bumpy semi-paved road in a house with low ceilings and an enclosed patio but no windows.

Attackers killed by security guards

Bags of dirt are piled up around it to act as blast walls and guests must go through a series of steel airlocks, where they are searched, before entering. The surrounding area is full of police and security guards to protect against insurgent attacks, which have increased in recent months around the country.

Police at the scene did not allow reporters near the restaurant as they rushed to help the wounded and ensure there were no more gunmen.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said security guards killed the two other attackers.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said targeted foreign officials dining at what he described as a "hotel."

"There was a suicide attack on a foreign hotel where special foreign invaders are coming for dinner. In this attack an explosive was used which was very strong and heavy casualties and massive destruction happened," he said.

Zabihullah said the targets of the attack included "high-ranking German officials." In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the report. The Taliban frequently provide exaggerated casualty figures.

Security agreement delayed

There have been a number of attacks in Kabul so far this month, including a suicide bicycle bombing of a bus carrying police that killed two people.

The last major attack near a foreign facility, a heavily fortified guest house in Kabul, took place on Oct. 13, when a suicide car bomber killed two passersby. That facility, knows as Green Village, was also attacked in 2012, killing seven guards and civilians.

Insurgents have frequently targeted foreign interests around the country and in Kabul. The Taliban have increased their attacks in recent months after foreign forces handed over control of security for the country to the Afghan army and police. Foreign forces are scheduled to withdraw from the country altogether by the end of this year.

A security agreement that would keep about 10,000 U.S. troops and about 6,000 from allied nations past 2014 has been stymied by President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign it until Afghans elect his successor in the April 5 elections. The deal is seen as crucial to train and mentor the nascent Afghan security forces, which now number about 350,000. If the deal falls through, the U.S. has said it will pull all its forces out of Afghanistan.

With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press, Reuters