KABUL - The suede, camel-colored, military issue boots of the suicide bomber looked brand new. He had the face of a young man, no older than 19.
He's a kid ... He looks very young ... He has hardly any beard, said a security official standing before the ripped-open body of the Taliban attacker who, disguised as a policeman, barged into a guest-house and blew himself up.
Early on Wednesday, Kabul awoke to ripples of gun fire and rocket blasts. By midday, six foreign U.N. workers had been killed when three Taliban militants stormed their guest-house, blowing themselves up and triggering a blaze which almost destroyed the building.
His boots, with their laces tied tightly, were the only thing that appeared intact. A few small, blood-sodden scraps of his standard grey-green flannel Afghan police uniform clung to patches of his legs.
A few feet away, the bodies of his two accomplices were splayed-out and almost entwined on the blood-stained, monochrome-tiled patio in front of the guest-house.
They looked older, had bare feet and one had blown off his leg.
The violence plaguing far-away provinces in Afghanistan's south had barged into Shahr-e Now, a popular and vibrant district of Kabul where attacks are rare and where Afghans like to shop in its large malls, relax in the park or go to the cinema.
A thick, grey plume of smoke funneled into the skyline, marking the spot where police were engaged in the stand-off with Taliban gunmen dressed in suicide vests.
SOMEONE'S IN THERE
Dozens of intelligence officials, some wearing blazers over the traditional shalwar kameez, stalked the narrow street where the guest-house was located, frantically speaking on mobile phones and radios, refusing for hours to confirm any information about what was happening.
Shopkeepers stood and stared blankly at the ensuing chaos as police and soldiers flocked to the scene. A foreign female guest, limping with her arms supported by policemen, screamed and cried as she was escorted down the street.
The guest-house was charred black and gutted by fire. Only two Afghan flags draped on its gaudy Greek columns were intact, just frayed by the blaze.
An election campaign sticker for President Hamid Karzai on the wall of the guest-house was stained with soot -- a reminder of a run-off presidential poll due in less than two weeks, and of the concerns about security to go with it.
There's someone in there we think, a woman, said a U.N. employee at the scene. I think she's still communicating with us, but they can't find her.
Outside, reporters, photographers and cameramen wrestled with police to get into the guest-house, while the corpses were zipped up into plastic silver body bags, carried out of the door and into an ambulance.
Losing their patience with the growing number of journalists, security officials and police officers forcibly dispersed the crowd, pushing them away from the entrance.
Twenty minutes later, mangled and charred black remains were recovered from the guest-house's smoking skeleton, only a gash of flesh indicating they were human.
The corpse was so badly burned that no one at that point could tell if it was a guest or another attacker.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)