By Hamid Shalizi and Emma Graham-Harrison
KABUL (Reuters) - Suicide bombers in army uniform attacked a Kabul police compound on Saturday, killing nine people in the second major assault inside the Afghan capital in less than a month, the Interior Ministry said.
The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the assault, vowed last month to carry out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops and government officials, and have assassinated several senior police commanders since the start of the year.
Three policemen, an intelligence agent, and five civilians -- including two finance ministry employees who worked in an office beside the police station -- were killed in the attack, said officials. Two other policemen and 10 civilians were wounded.
Despite the presence of up to 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government. May was the deadliest month on record for Afghan civilians, the United Nations said.
"One bomber blew himself up at the gate to pave the way for the others to enter, and a second one was shot dead by the police," said Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
The last attacker was holed up in a building on the compound where he fought for around an hour before he was also shot dead.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said three of their fighters carried out the attack, but gave no further details.
The insurgents were wearing Afghan army uniforms, a Kabul police spokesman said, a trademark of recent attacks which has led the government to clamp down on a once-flourishing black market in security uniforms.
The police station is in the heart of the old city. Nearby riverside streets that are normally bustling with shoppers and stall holders were emptied by the attack.
At the site of the attack, the body of one of the bombers who was shot before he could detonate his suicide vest lay on the ground dressed in green camouflage trousers and a jacket, beside pools of blood and pieces of flesh.
The latest attack in Kabul comes just weeks before seven areas across the country prepare to take over security responsibilities from the NATO-led force fighting an increasingly unpopular war that has dragged on for 10 years.
That will coincide with the start in July of a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops. U.S. and NATO troops plan to hand over security for all of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, though critics warn this date is premature.
It was the second suicide bomb attack in Kabul in recent weeks. On May 21, a suicide bomber killed six people and wounded 23 at a military hospital in a heavily guarded area of Kabul not far from the U.S. embassy.
In January, a suicide attack on a supermarket frequented by foreigners killed nine people in the capital's embassy district.
Kabul is nonetheless an island of relative stability as violence worsens across many other parts of Afghanistan.
The once-relatively peaceful north has seen particular bloodshed, with a series of high profile assassinations of police and government leaders.
And despite a surge of U.S. troops bringing improved security across much of the Taliban's former strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, coalition forces also saw more casualties in May 2011 than the same month a year earlier.
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Hamid Shalizi and Andrew Heavens)