Afghan police kill five Taleban at election HQ

Afghan military personnel  in Kabul on 29 March. Picture: Getty
Afghan military personnel in Kabul on 29 March. Picture: Getty
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AFGHAN police killed all five militants who attacked the election commission’s headquarters with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns yesterday, ending a four-hour standoff.

The five sneaked in to the Kabul compound, next to the airport, by wearing full-length burqas to hide their identities and weapons.

Dozens of employees who had been inside the Independent Election Commission compound took cover in the basement but no casualties were reported. Two warehouses were set on fire during the ensuing gunbattle, witnesses said.

Kabul airport closed its runway because of a possible threat to planes as security forces surrounded the occupied house and traded gunfire with the attackers.

The incident was the latest in a series of high-profile attacks that come as the Islamist movement steps up a campaign of violence to disrupt presidential elections, which are due to be held in a week.

A spokesman for the election commission said security had already been increased around the compound because an attack had been widely expected, and all staff members were safe.

Kabul police chief Mohammad Zahir Zahir said three or four attackers were holed up in a neighbouring house that had been empty when they occupied it. He said the house is about 800m away from the headquarters, which is inside a walled compound guarded by a series of watch towers and checkpoints. Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, but described what would have been a much more ambitious assault, claiming a suicide bomber and gunmen had stormed the compound.

He said the commission and election observers, including foreigners, were holding a meeting at the time of the attack. The deputy of the media monitoring commission, Ashmat Radfar, was in the building and fled to the basement with around 40 other people when the attack began.

About 15 rocket-propelled grenades had fallen in the area, and two warehouses were hit and set on fire, he told reporters after he managed to escape the compound.

It would have been difficult for the attackers to penetrate the tight security but the Taleban have staged a number of assaults aimed at showing they are able to strike at will.

On Tuesday, the Taleban struck another commision office on the edge of Kabul, with a suicide bomber detonating his vehicle outside while two gunmen stormed the building, killing four. The Taleban have stepped up attacks on foreigners in the Afghan capital, suggesting a shift in tactics to focus on civilian targets that are not as heavily protected as military and government installations.

The Taleban targeted an American charity, the Roots of Peace, and a nearby daycare centre late on Friday in the Afghan capital, sending foreigners – including women and children – fleeing. Officials said two Afghan bystanders were killed.

Gunmen slipped through security last week into the heavily fortified Serena Hotel in Kabul with pistols and ammunition hidden in their shoes and opened fire.

They killed nine people, including Sardar Ahmad, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent journalists, who worked for Agence France-Presse, along with his wife Homaira and two of his three children. Each were shot in the head. The couple’s surviving child, aged two, remains in a coma.

British-Swedish journalist Nils Horner was also shot in the head on the street earlier this month, and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners was attacked by a suicide bomber and gunmen in January.