A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up Friday inside a supermarket popular with Westerners, killing eight people -- some of them foreigners -- in an attack that showed insurgents can still strike the capital despite tightened security.
The Taliban said their target was an official with the U.S. security contractor formerly known as Blackwater whom they followed into the store.
Although the insurgent group regularly attacks those allied with NATO forces or the Afghan government, it was not clear why they targeted the company, now known as Xe Services.
It was the third deadly attack in Kabul in less than two months and the worst on a civilian target in the city since last February when suicide attackers killed 20 people at two residential hotels.
Afghan officials have said the relatively low level of violence in Kabul in the last half of 2010 could be credited to stepped-up raids on insurgent cells and the highly publicized "ring-of-steel" checkpoints surrounding the capital.
The Finest supermarket -- which sells such American staples as corn flakes, peanut butter and pasta sauce but also delicacies like caviar -- was packed with foreigners and upper-class Afghans shopping on their day off when shots rang out at about 2:30 p.m., sending customers scurrying for cover.
The assailant threw at least one grenade into the aisles and then detonated his explosives, said Ahmad Zaki, a criminal investigator with the Interior Ministry.
The blast blew out the store's glass doors and sparked a small fire in the frozen food section. Black, acrid smoke filled the main floor of the two-story building. Young men who sell phone cards on the street outside the store rushed in to help pull out the injured and the dead.
Police placed bodies on cots in the street outside the shop and covered them with towels.
The dead included two Afghan women, an Afghan boy and at least two or three foreigners, said Deputy Kabul Police Chief Daud Amin. He said the other two victims had not been identified.
Fifteen other people were wounded, including a Briton, a Canadian and three Filipinos, he said.
The identities of the victims were not immediately released.
The store is on the edge of a heavily guarded neighborhood full of embassies and luxurious homes. It faces out on a busy intersection. Police man a checkpoint right outside the store where they regularly pull aside suspicious-looking cars.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, saying the "enemies of Afghanistan are so desperate that they are now killing civilians, including women, inside a food market."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said none of those killed were truly civilians because the attack was "in a secured area with commercial stores for foreign occupiers."
He said the attacker killed a senior Xe official.
A representative for USTC Holdings, which recently bought North Carolina-based Xe, said several Xe personnel were near the site of the attack but that no one associated with the company was killed or wounded.
Xe Services is one of many private security companies that are disliked by many Afghans because they appear to operate with impunity. Karzai, who has moved to ban many of the guns for hire, has complained for years that many private guards commit human rights abuses, pay protection money to the Taliban and undercut the country's national security forces by offering higher wages and better living conditions.