The Afghan government has put the death toll at 38 from a brazen weekend attack in which five suicide bombers dressed in security force uniforms stormed a bank in the eastern part of the country.

afghan-police-220-rtr2it5r

Afghan border police patrol near a bank building in Jalalabad city that was attacked by gunmen on Saturday. Officials said at least 38 people were killed and 71 injured in the assault. ((Parwiz/Reuters))

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said Sunday that 21 of those killed were Afghan security forces, including many waiting to collect their pay at the local branch of Kabul Bank where the attack occurred shortly before noon Saturday in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The 17 other victims were civilians.

A total of 71 people, mostly civilians, were injured in the attack, he said.

"Five armed suicide bombers entered the Kabul Bank building and started shooting," Bashary told reporters at a news conference in Kabul.

"The incident happened while Afghan security forces were there to get their monthly salaries. That is why the casualties were so high."

Since no one is allowed inside the bank with weapons, none of the Afghan policemen or soldiers collecting their pay had weapons to defend themselves.

He said guards at the bank tried to prevent the armed militants from entering the building. A gunbattle broke out between the guards and the militants, who were all wearing suicide vests. During the fight, four of the attackers were killed and their suicide vests detonated.

The fifth suicide attacker — a man from North Waziristan in Pakistan — was arrested and his vest was defused, Bashary said.