KABUL -- At least 20 people were killed in a bomb attack that was followed by a gunbattle at the office of President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh.
Fifty people were injured, including the vice presidential candidate, on the first day of campaigning for Afghanistan’s September 28 presidential election, the government said in a statement on July 29.
Afghanistan's Health Ministry said one of the dead civilians was a woman.
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told RFE/RL that gunmen stormed into the four-story building that includes the offices of Saleh’s Green Trends Movement after the blast.
Explosions were heard inside the building as the gunmen fought a six-hour battle with Afghan security forces.
Rahimi said at least three attackers were killed and that about 40 civilians inside the building were rescued by security forces.
Rahimi said Saleh was wounded by shrapnel from the bomb but had been safely evacuated amid the ongoing battle.
Photographs shared on Twitter by Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan intelligence chief who also is a candidate for the presidency, and Tamim Asey, a former Afghan deputy defense minister, show Saleh sitting in a garden with blood stains on his right arm. He was surrounded by security guards.
Ghani, meanwhile, issued a statement on Twitter saying that a "true son of the Afghan soil and first VP candidate of my electoral team, Amrullah Saleh, has survived a complex attack by enemies of the state. We are relieved and thank the almighty that the attack has failed."
Saleh, a former close associate of the slain anti-Soviet mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Masud, is an outspoken and uncompromising opponent of the Taliban and other hard-line Islamist militant groups.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came just hours after Ghani marked the official start of Afghanistan’s two-month presidential election campaign by insisting that "peace is coming" and that negotiations with the Taliban “will take place."
Ghani made the remarks at a rally in Kabul on July 28. He is facing 17 other candidates and hopes to secure a second term by winning the delayed presidential election.
Earlier on July 28, the Taliban rejected a statement from a senior Afghan minister who said he hopes direct talks would begin within two weeks between the militant group and the government in Kabul.