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Taliban claims 20 in Kabul assaults

EIGHT Taliban gunmen wearing suicide vests attacked three Afghan government buildings yesterday in coordinated assaults that killed 20 people in the heart of Kabul just ahead of a planned visit from the new United States envoy.

The assailants sent three text messages to the leader of their terror cell in Pakistan before launching the assaults, said Amrullah Saleh, chief of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, underlining the links between militants in the two countries.

Five men armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the Justice Ministry in late morning, shooting at workers and temporarily trapping the minister and scores of others inside, witnesses said. The gunmen appeared to hold the building for about two hours before Afghan security forces regained control about midday.

At about the same time, two men in suicide vests blew themselves up at the ministry's correction department across town. A third assailant in a suicide vest was shot as he tried to force his way into the Education Ministry, about a kilometer from the Justice Ministry attack, said Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi.

At least 20 people were killed in the attacks and 57 wounded, said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the interior minister. All eight attackers died, Azimi said, bringing the total death toll to 28.

Zabiullah Mujaheed, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the attacks were in response to the alleged mistreatment of Taliban prisoners in Afghan government jails. "We have warned the Afghan government to stop torturing our prisoners," Mujaheed said in a phone call from an undisclosed destination. "Today we attacked Justice Ministry compounds."

Saleh said that officials had intelligence indicating that a "spectacular" attack involving multiple suicide bombers was imminent, but they did not have enough specifics to prevent it.

He compared yesterday's attacks to the assault on hotels, markets and a train station in Mumbai last November that killed 164 in India. Indian officials blamed that attack on Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The incident came as Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's newly appointed envoy to the region, was expected in Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan.

Elsewhere, in Logar, one province south of Kabul, a bomb exploded near a French military medical team's convoy, killing one French officer and two Afghans. Another soldier was seriously injured.


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