Gunmen attack Afghan governor's buildings in south

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The Independent Online

Gunmen unleashed a full-frontal assault today on government buildings in Afghanistan's largest southern city - a former Taliban stronghold where international and Afghan forces are trying to establish security and a functioning government.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, saying a large number of militants flooded into Kandahar city and attacked the governor's compound, the mayor's office and the offices of the country's intelligence service.



A government spokesman confirmed the attack on the governor's compound and the nearby mayor's office, but said he did not have information about whether the intelligence agency buildings across town were also under assault.



"If they've attacked a number of other places, at this point I don't know," spokesman Zalmai Ayubi told The Associated Press, speaking from a safe room inside the governor's compound. He said three civilians were wounded there but he had no reports of deaths.



An AP reporter near the compound said the shooting started shortly after midday and was focused at the back of the compound, near the governor's residence. At least two larger blasts were also be heard.



The fighting was still going on hours later. Shopkeepers throughout the city closed down there shops and the streets emptied of people as Kandahar residents bunkered down inside to wait out the fight. Police blocked journalists from getting near the buildings under assault.



A Taliban spokesman said the attackers had managed to enter at least the governor's compound and claimed that there were deaths.



"A lot of people have been killed," spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said.



Saturday's attack was the latest in a series of strikes by the Taliban insurgency at a high-profile government installation. Last month, the militant group launched deadly attacks inside the Defense Ministry, at a joint U.S.-Afghan base and at the Kandahar police headquarters. The group also sprung more than 480 inmates from the Kandahar city prison in a stunning jailbreak through a tunnel that had been dug over months.



The attack also came a day after the Taliban issued a statement saying that Osama bin Laden's death would boost the morale of the insurgency and threatening that they would show their strength.



"The martyrdom of Sheik Osama bin Laden will give a new impetus to the current jihad against the invaders," the group said in yesterday's statement. "The forthcoming time will prove this both for the friends and the foes."



But Ahmadi said this was not a revenge attack for bin Laden's death but a plot that had been in the works for months.



"This operation has been planned for a long time, for the past month or two," Ahmadi said.



The Taliban said last week, before the strike on bin Laden, that more large attacks were planned as part of their spring offensive.

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