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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Coordinated suicide attacks rock Afghanistan

 Gunmen launched multiple attacks in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, assaulting Western embassies in the heavily guarded, central diplomatic area and at the parliament in the west.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the assault, one of the most serious on the capital since US-backed Afghan forces removed the group from power in 2001.
"These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
The Taliban said the main targets were the German and British embassies and the headquarters of Afghanistan's NATO-led force. Several Afghan members of parliament joined security forces repelling attackers from a roof near the parliament.
Taliban fighters also launched assaults in at least two provinces, a spokesman for the insurgents said.
The Taliban said in a statement three hours into the attack that "tens of fighters", armed with heavy and light weapons, and some wearing suicide-bomb vests, were involved.
The coordinated attack is bound to intensify concern in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.


Zabihullah Mujahed, the Taliban spokesman, told AFP by phone from an unknown location, that the attacks were a message to the Kabul government and its Western military backers.
"The Kabul administration and the invading forces had said some time ago that the Taliban will not be able to launch a spring offensive. Today's attacks were the start of our spring offensive," he said.
NATO has about 130,000 troops supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai against the Taliban insurgency, but they will pull out by the end of 2014, handing control of security to Afghan forces.
A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told AFP that Afghan forces, whose ability to withstand the Taliban after 2014 has been questioned, were taking the lead in countering the assaults on Kabul.
But the latest in a series of spectacular attacks shows militants still have the ability to strike at the heart of the capital.
In September last year Taliban attacks targeting locations including the US embassy and headquarters of foreign troops in Kabul killed at least 14 during a 19-hour siege. And in August, nine people were killed when suicide bombers attacked the British Council cultural centre.
A German foreign ministry spokesman said in Berlin that the "grounds of the German embassy" had sustained damage Sunday but that "as far as we know (there have been) no injuries".
Japan's Kyodo news agency said three rockets landed in the Japanese embassy but nobody was hurt and staff had evacuated to a nearby air raid shelter.
US embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said the building was in lockdown but all staff were accounted for and safe, with no reports of injuries.
And the British Foreign Office said in London that all British embassy staff in Kabul were "accounted for".
"I was in my car repairing workshop when I saw two suicide bombers armed with RPG's and rifles," said witness Mohammad Zakir.
"One of them started shooting on the spot and killed an intelligence employee. The second one occupied a building under construction building and started firing rocket propelled grenades at the Kabul Star Hotel, German, US and UK embassies," the 27-year-old said.
Several attackers tried to enter the Afghan parliament but were engaged by security forces and driven back, parliamentary media officer Qudratullah Jawid told AFP. They had taken cover in a building near the parliament, he said.


MP Mohammad Naeem Lalai told AFP lawmakers joined the security forces in firing on militants as they tried to storm the parliament, which was in session.
A police spokesman said the areas under attack in Kabul were the diplomatic enclave of Wazir Akbar Khan in the centre, parliament in the west and District Nine in the south, where there are several foreign military bases.

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