KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle outside a small hotel frequented by foreigners just after dawn Tuesday, killing at least three guards in the latest of a rising number of violent attacks in northern Afghanistan.
After the attacker detonated his cache of explosives, two other militants stormed inside the hotel in Kunduz city and engaged police in a two-hour gunbattle, said Mubobullah Sayedi, a provincial spokesman.
"When the bomber blew himself up, the explosion shook everything," Sayedi said. "It broke glass everywhere."
Three hotel guards were killed and 10 other people, including an Afghan policeman, were wounded, he said. Foreigners staying at the two-story hotel escaped through the rear of the building, he said. The inn burned and several nearby buildings were damaged.
"We heard a very big explosion that shook all of Kunduz," said Ahmadullah, a 30-year-old shopkeeper in Kunduz, who lives about 10 yards (meters) from the building. "It was a very strong explosion."
Ahmadullah, who uses just one name, said he and his family quickly ran out of the neighborhood to a relative's house nearby. Worried that they were still too close to the fighting, they moved even farther away to seek protection in another relative's house.
"All my children were so scared," he said. "We have never been so close to a suicide bombing."
Fighting has been focused in southern and eastern Afghanistan, but insurgents have been conducting a rising number of attacks in the once-peaceful north.
Late last month, a vehicle carrying the deputy governor of Kunduz province struck a roadside bomb, injuring three of his bodyguards. In June, a bombing at a bazaar in the province killed at least 10 people. Also in June, three policemen were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself outside a mosque and another bomber hit a German NATO convoy, killing three civilians.
In May, a suicide bomber infiltrated a high-level meeting in neighboring Takhar province and killed northern Afghanistan's top police commander, Gen. Mohammed Daoud, provincial police chief Shah Jehan Noori and two German soldiers. The German NATO commander in northern Afghanistan was wounded.
Late last year, a suicide bomber killed Kunduz Governor Mohammed Omar and 15 other people at a mosque in neighboring Takhar province.
On Monday, the governor of a province in northeastern Afghanistan claimed that an airstrike conducted by the U.S.-led coalition killed four police officers at a checkpoint in the remote, mountainous region. Jamaluddin Badar said the strike took place late Sunday in the Wama district of Nuristan province, a lawless, rugged area near the border with Pakistan. He said coalition forces detained 12 police officers following the airstrike.
NATO said it was aware of the reports of a friendly fire incident and was investigating.
Badar condemned the incident, which he said occurred "while the flag of Afghanistan flew from the checkpoint and all police were in uniform."
Mistaken airstrikes and night raids are the leading cause of tension between the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government. President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the coalition take steps to ensure that airstrikes do not cause accidental deaths.
In the south, a NATO service member was killed Monday in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan, raising to 324 the number of foreign troops killed so far this year, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Associated Press writers Patrick Quinn and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.