KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A purported Taliban militant with grenades strapped to his body detonated them on a bustling Kabul shopping street popular with foreigners Saturday, killing himself and wounding seven others, including three NATO soldiers, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

The bombing broke a lull in violence in Kabul following a security clampdown for landmark presidential elections that U.S.-backed interim leader Hamid Karzai appeared set to win.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the assault, which left the bomber’s mutilated body slumped between the soldiers’ car and the front of a carpet store.

Also, a bomb exploded near a U.S. military truck in eastern Nangahar province, damaging its windshield and injuring the hand of a Marine, American military spokesman Maj. Mark McCann said.

Lt. Col. Patrick Poulain, a spokesman for the NATO-led force that has provided security in Kabul since the Taliban fell in 2001 after a U.S. invasion, said the attacker was on downtown Chicken Street when he threw at least three hand grenades, one of which failed to explode. The city’s police chief, Gen. Baba Jan, said the man then detonated about more six grenades, apparently strapped to his body.

Two soldiers were slightly wounded but the third was hurt “more seriously,” Poulain said. He declined to give the nationalities of the soldiers, who were admitted to a German-run field hospital, but NATO troops at the scene said they included Norwegians.

Poulain said three Afghan civilians and an unidentified foreign woman also were injured. Police had no word on any foreign woman being among the injured.

Abdul Wahid, who runs a shop next door to where the attack happened, said he heard three explosions, rushed outside and saw five injured people: an injured Western woman, two foreign soldiers and two Afghan children – a young girl who often begged there, and the 13-year-old son of a shopkeeper.

“I saw the beggar girl running down the street, her hands covered in blood,” he told The Associated Press.

Police sealed off the street as Afghan investigators examined the attacker’s remains, which lay twisted on the sidewalk amid discarded shoes and broken glass.

One officer retrieved a tattered sleeve containing the man’s blackened arm from the other side of the road.

A sport utility vehicle bearing the green insignia of the NATO force sat in front of the store, its engine still running, but with one rear window blown out and its front tires punctured by the explosion.

Chicken Street, the heart of Kabul’s rejuvenated commercial district, is crammed with convenience stores and souvenir shops popular with foreign aid workers and soldiers.

Security officials and embassies warned that the area could present an ideal target for extremists.

The U.S. Embassy has urged caution during the election period, especially since a car bomb at the office of an U.S. security contractor killed about 10 people, including three Americans, on Aug. 29.

Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi, a Taliban spokesman, said one of its fighters carried out the latest attack.

“This man was an Afghan, and he had a bomb strapped to his body,” Latifi told AP by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location. “The elections cannot stop our holy war.”

The claim’s authenticity could not be verified. Some previous assertions of responsibility for attacks from Latifi have turned out to be false.

In January, the Taliban claimed back-to-back suicide bombings in Kabul. They killed two NATO soldiers – one Canadian, one British. Investigators looking into the case have disclosed no findings.

About 1,000 people have died in political violence across Afghanistan this year, but Oct. 9 elections passed without major violence. Officials asserted that the Taliban are a fading force and that the country is on course for stability after a quarter-century of strife.

Preliminary results suggest that Karzai, who enjoys strong American backing, is heading for victory, probably with the simple majority needed to avoid a run-off.

With 6.6 million votes, or four-fifths of the total, counted as of Saturday evening, the interim leader had more than 3.57 million votes, or 54.6 percent. Former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni trailed with 17 percent.

AP-ES-10-23-04 1555EDT

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