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Taliban Attack Embassies, Parliament In Kabul, 3 Other Cities, 16 Killed

PTI [ Updated 18 Apr 2012, 10:05:05 ]
Taliban Attack Embassies, Parliament In Kabul, 3 Other Cities, 16 Killed

Kabul, Apr 15: The Taliban launched a series of coordinated attacks on at least seven sites across the Afghan capital on Sunday, targeting the NATO headquarters, the Parliament and diplomatic residences. Militants also launched near-simultaneous assaults in three other eastern cities.

By the time the fighting ended, insurgents had killed 16 Afghans - five police officers and 11 civilians - more than half of them children. Six or seven rockets hit inside the embassy compound, but no embassy or NATO staff members were hurt.

At least two attackers were killed and five people wounded in the Kabul attacks, which were still under way hours after they began.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility, saying in a statement that scores of suicide bombers were assaulting Kabul and three other provinces.

The attacks in the capital began with bombings in the central neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, where a NATO base as well as a number of embassies, including that of the U.S., are located. Gunfire erupted soon after the blasts, forcing people caught out in the street to scramble for cover.

More than 10 explosions in all rocked the capital, and heavy gunfire shook the city for two hours after the initial blast. Smoke rose over the skyline from a few spots as sirens wailed.

In an emailed statement, Mujahid said the attacks were targeting NATO headquarters, the British and German Embassies, the Afghan Parliament building, the Serena and Kabul Star hotels, and sites along Darulaman road, where the Russian Embassy is located.

At the same time, Taliban fighters launched assaults on Afghan and NATO installations in the capital cities of Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia provinces, he said.

“In all these attacks, tens of mujahedeen fighters equipped with light and heavy weapons, suicide vests, RPGs, rockets, heavy machine guns and hand grenades are attacking their targets,” Mujahid said. “Our initial reports indicate that a large number of foreign forces, Afghan police and army are killed and wounded.” The Taliban regularly exaggerate casualty figures.

As militants attacked the city’s diplomatic enclave, the US, British, German and Japanese embassy compounds came under fire. All the staff in the missions were reportedly safe.

The militants attacked five-star Kabul Star Hotel in Wazir Akhbar Khan area of the capital and some tried to enter the Afghan parliament firing rockets but were engaged by security forces and driven back, officials said.

The militants also struck at cities in three provinces—an airport in Jalalabad, Logar and Paktia.

“I am on the spot and hearing the gunfire being traded between the suicide bombers and Afghan forces. Until now I heard several explosions,” a PTI correspondent reported from the scene of attack.

A number of Taliban militants took positions at a newly-built building at the Shahr-e-Naw, a neighborhood of Kabul. They battled with Afghan forces for several hours after the militants began assaulting Western embassies.

The building is located close to American embassy, Turkey embassy, presidential palace, Iranian embassy, ISAF’s headquarters, German embassy, UK embassy and different other diplomatic offices.

The American Embassy said in a statement saying that there were attacks “in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy”. The German Foreign Ministry said there was some damage in the grounds of the German Embassy, but it did not appear that anyone had been hurt.

An External Affairs Ministry statement issued in Delhi said all Indian citizens were safe.

ITBP Director General Ranjit Sinha said there was no threat to the Indian embassy as it was located three to four km away from the scene of the attack this afternoon. All Indian installations were also safe, he said.

Militants holed up in a tall building were firing rockets in different directions, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. It was not immediately clear what they were targeting, but shots appeared to be focusing on the nearby British Embassy.

Britain’s Foreign Office could not provide details of the attack.

“We can confirm that there is an ongoing incident in the diplomatic area of Kabul,” a spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. “We are in close contact with embassy staff.”

Across town, residents reported a blast near the parliament building.

Taliban claimed responsibility for the multiple attacks by an unknown number of its men armed with light and heavy weapons and grenades and said it was the launch of the “spring offensive.” Several of them had suicide vests, officials said.

Sidiqq said 19 terrorists were killed in the gunbattle with security forces which was still continuing in the Afghan capital tonight. Two gunmen who had planned to target Mohammad Karim Khalili, one of President Hamid Karzai’s two deputies, were also captured.

“The battle is still continuing,” he said, adding the enounter was still underway at the place near Karzai’s palace and Parliament building. Karzai was moved to a safe place.

NATO said it had reports of attacks in seven locations in Kabul and they included a newly built five-star hotel.

As militants attacked the city’s diplomatic enclave, the US, British, German and Japanese embassy compounds came under fire.