KABUL, Afghanistan — In one of the deadliest insurgent attacks in the decade-long war in Afghanistan, nine Taliban fighters dressed as Afghan soldiers stormed a government compound in the western part of the country on Wednesday morning, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 100 in a hostage standoff.
The complex assault began at around 8:45 a.m., when two suicide attackers detonated explosives packed into an army pickup truck at the entrance gate of the provincial government compound in Farah, according to police officials. After the explosion, which ripped through the mayor’s office and neighboring buildings, insurgents rushed the packed provincial courthouse, taking civilians and a handful of employees hostage.
Afghan security forces surrounded the building, firing at the Taliban fighters tucked away on the second floor. At some point during the nearly seven-hour gunfight, the insurgents took the hostages downstairs to the basement and shot them, the police said.
By 4 p.m., the fight was over, leaving behind a scene of carnage and destruction. The death toll: 34 civilians, 10 Afghan security forces and all nine insurgents, the Farah police said. More than 100 people, mostly civilians, suffered wounds.
“Terrorists once again have shed the blood of innocent people visiting government departments for their work,” President Hamid Karzai said in a statement. “Terrorists should know that they must answer for this before the nation and that they will face the God’s punishment in the afterlife.”
The attack highlighted the deteriorating security situation in Farah, a restive province that borders Iran to the west. The last major assault in the province occurred in May, when four insurgents dressed as police officers staged an attack on the governor’s compound, killing at least 11 people and wounding a dozen others. But violent attacks in general have been on the rise recently in the province.
Officials from Farah said the province had become a hotbed for the insurgency and drug traffickers, as the government focused its resources on more violent areas of the country. Humaira Ayobi, a member of the Parliament who represents Farah, said that a recent effort by the police to stem the drug trade may have contributed to the violence seen on Wednesday. Last month, five police officers were killed in the province while conducting a poppy eradication campaign.
As warm weather spreads throughout Afghanistan, a period referred to as the fighting season, Taliban violence is expected to increase. And as Afghan forces take the lead role in securing the nation, they are preparing for a particularly fierce year of fighting ahead of the planned 2014 withdrawal of international forces.
“Farah is bleeding and crying today,” Ms. Ayobi said. “The province will mourn for weeks.”
On the street where the attack took place on Wednesday, witnesses described a nightmarish scene, with bodies splayed all over. Ambulances carted charred bodies from the buildings, including the offices of the mayor, the prosecutor and the governor.
“When I reached the street I saw that all shops and houses around the courthouse were destroyed,” said Jalil Khan, 47, a civil servant at the customs office. “I saw men, women and some children lying on the ground, bleeding or burned. Some of them didn’t know where they were or what had happened to them.”
Shujauddin, 22, a teacher in Farah city, said he was in the courthouse to address a land dispute when the first explosion struck the government compound. When Shujauddin, who uses one name, tried to escape, he was shot in the arm twice and caught a third bullet in the leg. He woke up hours later in the hospital, he said.
The attack in Farah Province coincided with the highly anticipated return of Afghanistan’s powerful intelligence chief, Asadullah Khalid, who was seriously wounded in a December suicide attack. Mr. Khalid, who was treated in the United States and required multiple surgeries, returned to Kabul on Wednesday morning.