January 19, 2010 in Nation/World

Militants hit Afghan capital

Hours-long assault includes bombings, gunfire
Robert H. Reid And Rahim Faiez Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A shopping center burns in central Kabul, Afghanistan, after Taliban militants struck the heart of the government on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban militants wearing explosive vests launched a brazen daylight assault Monday on the center of Kabul, with suicide bombings and gunbattles near the presidential palace and other government buildings that paralyzed the city for hours.

Afghan forces along with NATO advisers managed to restore order after nearly five hours of fighting as explosions and machine gunfire echoed across the mountain-rimmed city, sending terrified Afghans racing for cover. Twelve people were killed, including seven attackers, officials said.

“We are so concerned, so disappointed about the security in the capital,” said Mohammad Hussain, a 25-year-old shopkeeper who witnessed the fighting. “Tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are being sent to Afghanistan, yet security in the capital is deteriorating.”

The violence began shortly before 10 a.m. and lasted until mid- afternoon with attacks at four locations within an area of less than one square mile.

In the first assault, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at Pashtunistan Square, a major intersection near the gates to the presidential palace, the Central Bank and the luxury Serena Hotel, which is frequented by Westerners.

Clashes broke out as other militants fought with Afghan troops, who converged quickly on the scene in pickup trucks and armored vehicles. Police sealed off the area and helicopters buzzed overhead.

Several attackers then stormed into a nearby shopping mall, prompting a standoff with security forces. Two bombers were killed when their explosives detonated, setting the four-story building ablaze.

About 11:17 a.m., another suicide attacker drove toward the area in an ambulance but blew himself up after he was challenged at a checkpoint near the Education Ministry.

At about 1 p.m., three other attackers entered another commercial building housing offices and stores, holding off security forces for about two hours before they were killed.

The dead included an intelligence agent, two policemen and two civilians, including one child, according to Interior Minister Hanif Atmar. He said 71 other people were wounded, including 35 civilians. Most of the injuries were caused by hand grenade attacks hurled by the militants, he said.

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