Bomb attacks kill 20 in central Kabul ahead of Holbrooke visit

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The Independent Online

Suicide bombers and gunmen mounted audacious attacks on Afghan government ministries in Kabul today, killing 19 people and injuring 50 others. Up to 15 insurgents were involved in the assaults at the heavily guarded heart of the Afghan capital, near the presidential palace, with blasts and gunfire echoing through the city.

At one point, the Justice Minister was trapped in his office as armed men stormed the building. Four men wearing suicide vests managed to get into the justice ministry but were shot dead.

A student, Assadullah Jagdalak, was in the justice ministry and said he hid under a table when he heard shooting outside the building. Security guards opened fire and the attackers shot back, killing some, he said. “One got inside the building and started shooting,” he added. “One guy got upstairs.”

The operation, claimed by the Taliban, came a day before a visit by Richard Holbrooke, the new US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and highlighted the deteriorating security situation.

Taliban fighters and Afghan soldiers and policemen exchanged fire in running battles as civilians fled for cover. A few miles away, two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a prisons department building, killing eight police officers and six civilians. Two gunmen were killed inside the education ministry.

A spokesman for the Taliban said in a statement to a private television station that the attacks were revenge for mistreatment of Taliban prisoners by Afghan authorities.

The Nato force commander, General David McKiernan, said: “Again, the Taliban have displayed that they have no respect for Afghan citizens or any desire to see a peaceful future in Afghanistan.”

Mr Holbrooke has said Afghanistan would be “much tougher” to solve than Iraq, and that he had “never seen anything like the mess we have inherited” from the Bush administration.