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October 29, 2009

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Assault on UN site in Kabul leaves 11 dead

TALIBAN militants wearing suicide vests and police uniforms stormed a guest house used by UN staff in the heart of the Afghan capital yesterday, killing 11 people including five UN workers.

The two-hour attack, which began shortly before 6am, sent people jumping out of windows or hopping from roof to roof to escape a fire that engulfed part of the three-story building in Kabul. A man from Kansas City, Missouri, said he held off gunmen with a Kalashnikov until a group of guests escaped through the laundry room.

It was the biggest in a series of attacks intended to undermine next month's presidential runoff election. At least 25 UN staff were staying at the guest house, most of them advisers for the November 7 balloting.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the assaults, which included rocket attacks at the presidential palace and the city's main luxury hotel. The Taliban has warned Afghans to stay away from the polls or risk attacks.

The chief of the United Nations' mission in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said the attack "will not deter the UN from continuing all its work" in the country.

"We will not be deterred from this noble mission," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York.

John Turner, a trucking contractor from Kansas City, said the attackers appeared well organized and were able to penetrate the building, located on a residential street.

Flushed and with black stains on his hands and face, Turner said 40 people were staying at the guest house, of whom about 25 took refuge in the laundry room at the back of the building under his protection.

"I am armed. I carry an AK-47 and I kept firing it to keep the attackers away from the group I was guarding," he said. The group later jumped over a back wall to take refuge in a house behind the guest house, he said.

About two kilometers away from the guest house, one rocket struck the "outer limit" of the presidential palace but caused no casualties, presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said. Two more rockets slammed into the grounds of the expensive Serena Hotel, favored by many foreigners.

One failed to explode but filled the lobby with smoke, forcing guests and employees to flee to the basement.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as "an inhuman act" and called on the army and police to strengthen security around all international institutions.

Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying three militants with suicide vests, grenades and machine guns carried out the guest house assault.


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