A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Western-style grocery store in Kabul on Friday, killing at least eight people.
NBC News reported that the victims included an employee with the security firm formerly known as Blackwater. North Carolina-based Blackwater Worldwide is now called Xe Services.
The death toll included five foreigners and a U.S. official told The Associated Press that initial reports indicated that two American citizens died in the attack.
Kabul Police Chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi told reporters at the scene — which is located several hundred yards from the British embassy — that six others were wounded, including two who suffered critical injuries.
In a call to NBC News, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack. He said the bomber saw an senior employee of Xe going into the store. He later detonated his suicide vest, killing the security contractor as well as other Westerners, the spokesman said.
A senior U.S. official told The Associated Press that American security officers were working with Afghan security to establish identities and nationalities. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because reports were preliminary and the process of informing the victims' families was not complete.
"It was one suicide attacker," said Sayed Bashir, a member of the Ministry of Interior's criminal investigation team. "We found the two legs of the suicide bomber."
Attacks in the Afghan capital have fallen off in recent months and the explosion in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, considered one of the safest in the city, alarmed diplomats and other members of the international community.
'Ring of steel' The capital, home to Afghanistan's security forces and newly surrounded by a "ring of steel" police cordon, had seemed exempt until recently from the tide of violence rising elsewhere.
Ahmad Zaki, another member of the criminal investigation unit, said the suicide bomber threw at least one grenade and fired shots, prompting customers to run to another area of the store. "Then he blew himself up," Zaki said.
The shop's main entrance and side entrance doors had been blown out. Shattered glass lay strewn across the roundabout in front of the shop, and there was dried blood on the pavement.
The explosion ignited a small fire in the frozen food section. Black, acrid smoke filled the main floor of the two-story store. Mounds of canned goods, boxes of cereal and other merchandise were strewn across the floor, making it difficult for police officers and rescuers to walk around. More than an hour after the 2:30 p.m. blast, a charred smell still permeated the store.
"I was inside the store," Mary Hayden, a Western consultant, said recounting the attack. "To my left, I heard a gunshot. A bomb went off. Everyone was running to the back of the building."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and said the "enemies of Afghanistan are so desperate that they are now killing civilians, including women, inside a food market." He said attacks against women "are not part of Afghan culture or Islam. This is an attack against Islam."
'I saw fire everywhere'
The store was full of foreign customers, according to Moujib, a 14-year-old Afghan boy who uses just one name.
"I was on the first floor and we heard a boom," he said, crying and clinging to his mother. "I might have heard some shooting. Then I saw fire everywhere."
Another eyewitness, Mohammad Parwais, said he also heard gunfire.
"We were waiting for a car and we heard some shooting inside the supermarket and then the explosion," Parwais said.
More than 100 police officers responded to the scene where people were using hoses to clear glass and blood stains from the pavement.
The bodies, some wrapped in posters that had been displayed inside the store, were taken away in ambulances and the back of pickup trucks. One woman killed in the blast was partially covered in a towel, but her mangled legs and black, high-heeled boots were visible.
Yama, an Afghan man who sells phone cards at a traffic circle just outside the store, said he heard gunfire and hit the ground. He and other sellers then rushed inside to help injured and dazed customers from the store.
"They were looking around like they didn't know what had happened," he said. "Their eyes were wide open."