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Taliban strike heart of Kabul; 9 killed, 40 wounded
KABUL, JAN 18 (Agencies):
Published on 19 Jan. 2010 12:13 AM IST
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Taliban militants struck in the heart of the Afghan capital on Monday, launching suicide attacks at key government targets including the presidential palace and locked security forces in running gun battles, which left nine people, including four attackers dead. The brazen strike in the city was a clear sign the insurgents plan to escalate their fight as the US and its allies ramp up their own campaign to end the war. At least 40 people were wounded, officials said. After a series of blasts and more than three hours of ensuing gunfights outside several ministries and inside a shopping mall, President Hamid Karzai said security had been restored to the capital, though search operations continued amid reports that attackers were hiding in the city. It was the biggest attack in the capital since Oct. 28 when gunmen with automatic weapons and suicide vests stormed a guest house used by UN staff, killing at least 11 people including three UN staff. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that 20 armed militants, including some with suicide vests, had entered Kabul to target the presidential palace and other government buildings in the center of the capital. Explosions and heavy machine-gun fire rattled the city for hours. Debris was strewn on the streets, which were quickly abandoned by crowds that normally fill the area. Defense ministry spokesman Gen Mohammad Zahir Azimi said a child and a policeman were killed. The ministry of public health later said five people - a civilian and four security forces - were killed and 30 others wounded. Four militants also were killed, including two suicide bombers who detonated their explosives, and Afghan forces were searching several other areas in the city for more attackers, Azimi said. The attack unfolded on a day in which confirmed Cabinet members were sworn in by Karzai despite the rejection by parliament of the majority of his choices. Presidential spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the swearing-in had occurred as scheduled and everybody in the palace was safe. The first blast was heard shortly before 10 am in an area where government buildings are concentrated, including the presidential palace, the central bank and the luxury Serana Hotel, which is frequented by Westerners. Azimi said a rocket slammed into the street near the bank’s gate, but there were conflicting reports that the area had been struck by a suicide bomber or grenades. Mohib Safi, the bank’s deputy governor, said employees heard a strong explosion followed by gunfire. He said employees were safely inside and that no militants had entered the building. Police sealed off a large area in the center of Kabul as the clash of machine-gun fire echoed through the mountain-rimmed city. Helicopters buzzed overhead. A car that exploded between a shopping center and the Ministry of Education burned in the street. Fighting raged for more than three hours and one four-story shopping center near the justice ministry was engulfed in flames after a group of militants entered the building, throwing grenades inside to frighten shoppers, according to interior ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary.

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