KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants attacked a California-based charity and a nearby day care center Friday, sending foreigners -- including women and children -- fleeing while Afghan security forces battled the gunmen. An Afghan girl, a driver and all five attackers were killed.
The assault is the latest aimed at foreigners in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and suggests the Taliban are shifting tactics to focus on civilian targets that aren't as heavily protected as military and government installations as part of an overall surge in violence ahead of April 5 elections.
It also appeared aimed at sending a message to the U.S. and its allies as the Obama administration presses the Afghan government to sign a security agreement that would allow thousands of international troops to stay after the NATO-mandated combat mission ends in December.
The attack began in a way typical of the Taliban, which claimed responsibility in a statement.
A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives in front of the four-story building housing workers with the California-based Roots of Peace, then four gunmen rushed into the compound.
Roots of Peace said the organization's guards pursued the attackers into the house and killed two of them, while four foreign aid workers -- two Americans, a South African and a Malaysian -- took cover inside. Two of the foreigners went to the roof while the other two hunkered down in their rooms, said the group's president, Gary Kuhn.
One man survived by hiding in the closet with clothes pulled over himself, even after a grenade was thrown in his room, Kuhn said from his office in San Rafael.
Members of the Afghan National Police rapid reaction force, wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, cordoned off the area.
Kuhn said an adjacent children's day care center used mostly by foreigners also was hit, although it was unclear if it was actually targeted.
About two dozen foreigners, including women and children, were evacuated from the day care center, which is not connected with Roots of Peace.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said insurgents attacked a "guesthouse of foreigners and a church of foreigners" and vowed in a statement that "we will keep on killing foreigners."
Kuhn's wife, Heidi, said it was "a day care center that does have Christian religious services." Kuhn had planned to travel to Kabul next week with his son. In addition to the suicide bomber, all four gunmen were killed, ending the standoff at about 8 p.m., Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi said.
Roots of Peace, founded by the Kuhns in 1997, is running two projects supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as advising Afghanistan's agriculture ministry.