KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban launched a complex attack on the Afghan parliament Monday, with a suicide car bomber striking at the entrance and gunmen battling police as lawmakers were meeting inside to confirm the appointment of a defense minister, police and witnesses said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the attack began with a car bomb explosion near the entrance. Gunmen then attempted to storm the compound but were pushed back by security forces and eventually took refuge in a nearby building under construction, he said, adding that police have surrounded the structure.
Sediqqi said all the MPs inside parliament were safe. Health Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kahousi said 18 civilians were wounded, including two women and two children.
Sidiqa Mubarez, a member of parliament, said the building was rocked by a large explosion and that some people were wounded by flying glass. She said the explosion happened shortly after Masoom Stanekzai had arrived to be confirmed as defense minister, a post that has been vacant for nine months.
The Taliban said in a statement that they carried out a suicide bombing outside parliament.
An Associated Press reporter heard heavy gunfire outside the parliament and saw black smoke billowing from the entrance as ambulances raced to the scene. The reporter later heard sporadic shooting from the building where the militants were said to be holed up.
Just down the street, hundreds of children were evacuated from a school.
Taliban insurgents have launched complex attacks on government targets in the capital in the past.
The insurgents have also been advancing across the country's north, capturing two districts of the Kunduz province in as many days.
Mohammad Yusuf Ayubi, head of the provincial council, said the insurgents attacked the district of Dashti Archi from four sides, setting off heavy fighting before seizing full control of the area early Monday. He said local forces suffered casualties but did not have a precise count.
He said around 150,000 residents of the district were unable to leave.
The Taliban confirmed that they had captured the district, as well as ammunition and four tanks, in an emailed statement.
The Taliban seized control of the Chardara district in Kunduz on Sunday. The insurgents attacked the provincial capital, also called Kunduz, in a surprise attack in April and nearly captured the city before Afghan forces pushed them back.
Afghan forces have struggled to fend off Taliban advances since the U.S. and NATO combat mission officially concluded at the end of last year.