Afghan militants attack Indian Consulate in Herat

Building catches fire but diplomats escape unharmed as local security forces engage attackers.

An Afghan soldier fires his weapon as insurgents and security forces clashedat the Indian Consulate in Herat on May 23, 2014. Hoshang Hashimi / AP Photo
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KABUL // Militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked an Indian Consulate in western Afghanistan on Friday, though its diplomatic staff escaped unharmed.

At least three gunmen opened fire on the consulate from a nearby building in Hera. Police and soldiers killed three assailants in a gun battle that saw the building catch fire as authorities evacuated neighbours.

Security forces continued to search the area in case there were other gunmen.

Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs, said a deployment of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police at the consulate held off the assault until Afghan forces arrived. He said all the Indians at the consulate were safe.

“Our consulate and our diplomatic presence in Afghanistan have been under threat,” Mr Akbaruddin said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, a group called Ansar Al Tawhid that appears to be based in Afghanistan posted a video online a week ago that threatened India, according to the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites.

Herat lies near Afghanistan’s border with Iran and is considered one of the safer cities in the country. In September 2013, Taliban gunmen launched a similar assault on the US Consulate in the city, killing four Afghans but failing to enter the compound or hurt any Americans.

India has invested more than US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) in Afghan projects, including roads and power projects. But the country remains a target. In August 2013, a botched bombing against the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad near the border with Pakistan killed nine people, including six children.

Two attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 killed 75 people.

Groups known for targeting Indian interests include Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was blamed for the 2008 Mumabi attacks that killed 166 people, and the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

Sameer Patil, a national security expert at the Mumbai-based think tank Indian Council on Global Relations, said it was likely that anti-India elements from Pakistan were behind the attack. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, though relations recently have thawed slightly between the two nuclear-armed countries.

“It is likely that by carrying out such violence, anti-India elements in Pakistan may be testing the resolve of India’s new government, led by prime minister-designate Narendra Modi, on terrorism and how he responds to such acts of violence,” Mr Patil said.

Pakistan condemned the attack in a statement, saying that “no cause justifies (the) targeting of diplomatic missions.”

* Associated Press