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Suicide bombers, gunmen kill 17 in Afghan capital

TALIBAN fighters, some wearing suicide vests, attacked Afghanistan's Justice Ministry and another government building today, killing 17 people and wounding 46, officials and a Taliban spokesman said.

The coordinated attacks - in the heart of Kabul and close to the presidential palace - struck just ahead of a planned visit by Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy to the region.

The sophisticated assaults in heavily barricaded Kabul underscore the reach of the Taliban beyond their strongholds in the south and east.

Eight assailants also died in the attacks, bringing the total death toll to 25, said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi. He said all the attackers had suicide vests, but only three assailants set them off.

Five men armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the Justice Ministry in late morning. All were killed in an ensuing gunbattle with security forces, Azimi said.

By midday, about two hours after the attacks began, Afghan security forces appeared to be in control of the building. They waved from windows in an apparent all-clear sign, according to an AP reporter on the scene.

Azimi said at least 17 people were killed between the Justice Ministry attack and another at a corrections department in northern Kabul.

One of the attackers was shot dead by police outside the Education Ministry, said police officer Zulmay Khan.

Zabiullah Mujaheed, a spokesman for the Taliban, said five of their fighters attacked the ministry, while two others attacked the corrections department.

Mujaheed said the attacks were in response to the alleged mistreatment of Taliban prisoners in Afghan government jails.

The Taliban regularly use suicide bombings in their assaults on Afghan and foreign troops, but the capital had been largely spared of major attacks recently.

"We have warned the Afghan government to stop torturing our prisoners," Mujaheed told the AP in a phone call from an undisclosed location. "Today we attacked Justice Ministry compounds."

A ministry worker said he scrambled out of a second-floor window to escape an advancing gunman.

"I was in my office on the second floor of the Justice Ministry when I heard the sound of a strong explosion on the first floor. I came out of my office to see what was going on and I saw a man with an AK-47 shooting at every employee he saw in the hall. I saw three employees dead, including one of my colleagues," said ministry employee Nazir Mohammad, shaking as he spoke.


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