KABUL (Reuters) - Patient Zia Zabuli was lucky to escape Wednesday’s attack on a military hospital in central Kabul, which has been claimed by Islamic State.
In hospital because of a leg wound, he and three others hid in a room and barricaded themselves in when they saw one of the gunmen approaching.
“Together we put beds, chairs and whatever there was behind the door,” he told Reuters an hour or so after a prolonged battle ended in the late afternoon.
From their hiding place, they heard gunfire and the sound of explosions from hand grenades as special forces troops battled the three militants.
At one point, one of the assailants tried to break into the room where he was hiding.
“He came up to our door and kicked it several times but it did not open. Then he left,” said Zabuli, who was still wearing his hospital pyjamas as he limped away from the scene supported by a relative.
“We stayed quiet and prayed for our safety.”
According to witnesses, the gunmen were already inside the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital in the Afghan capital when a suicide bomb went off outside, signaling the start of the carnage.
At least 30 people were killed and dozens wounded by militants who wore medical coats to conceal their identities and weapons.
It was the latest in a series of attacks against civilian and military targets in Afghanistan, and underlined the growing threat posed by insurgents pledging loyalty to the Middle East-based Islamic State.
The group is opposed to the Western-backed government as well as to the main Afghan Taliban insurgency, which is larger and remains the main security concern for Afghan and NATO troops seeking to impose stability.
When the blast went off at around 9 a.m. local time, doctor’s assistant Ahmad Mahmoodi looked up and saw a gunman on the second floor of the main building shooting indiscriminately at the hospital entrance below.
A security guard was killed and another person was shot in the arm.
“I was in the corridor and jumped inside the emergency ward and from one of its windows, I jumped out,” he said.
Throughout the 400-bed complex, Afghanistan’s largest military hospital, medical staff, patients and visitors scrambled for cover as the attackers went through the buildings.
As Afghan special forces landed by helicopter on the roof of the hospital and the fighting raged, some people could be seen from outside the hospital crouching on window ledges.
Ghulam Hazrat was with his wounded brother when the gunmen appeared and shot two other visitors. He jumped out of the building, but added: “My brother is inside.”
As night fell, scores of people gathered outside the hospital waiting for news of family members and friends.
One man, who did not give his name, said he had received a telephone call from his brother, who was taking care of their wounded father when the attack happened.
“He told us that he was carrying our father on his back,” he said. “Now my uncle who is inside the hospital has just called and told us both were martyred. He said their bodies were next to each other.”
Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White