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Suicide gunmen hit Afghan ministry in deadly raid

ASSAILANTS, some wearing suicide vests, attacked the Justice Ministry and another government building in Afghanistan's capital today, causing multiple deaths and forcing workers to flee from building windows. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks. A Xinhua news agency report put the death toll as at least 14.

The brazen assaults in the heart of Kabul came ahead of a visit by Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy to the region.

At least five men armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the Justice Ministry, said Mohammad Ali, a ministry employee. Two assailants died in the ensuing firefight with security forces. At least three employees were killed, another witness said.

Afghan Justice Minister Sarwar Danesh told The Associated Press by mobile telephone that he was holed up in the building, where a number of gunmen were also hiding.

"There is still fighting. They used grenades and AK-47s," Danesh said. "There are workers still inside the building in their offices."

Troops surrounded the ministry with guns drawn. An AP reporter could hear gunfire inside the compound, though it was soon drowned out by the sirens of arriving ambulances and fire trucks.

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 Nazir Mohammad, shaking as he spoke.

Another suicide bomber attacked the ministry's corrections department in another part of the city, said police officer Zulmay Khan. There were a number of casualties from the second attack.

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

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

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

The siege of the ministry follows a lull in major attacks inside the capital.

The Taliban regularly use suicide bombings in their attacks on Afghan and foreign troops.


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