19 Jan 2010

Taliban attack heart of Kabul

8:41 am on 19 January 2010

Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked buildings in the heart of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday.

Fighting erupted near the Serena Hotel and the presidential palace as President Hamid Karzai was swearing in members of his cabinet inside the palace.

He says security has now been restored.

The assault began at a busy time of the morning. Fighting lasted for four hours.

The ABC reports a car packed with explosives was detonated outside the ministry of education.

Two shopping centres, the presidential palace, a cinema and the five-star Serena Hotel were also targeted.

The Taliban said 20 fighters took part in the attack. NATO says they were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

Officials say two civilians and three security personnel have been killed plus 71 others wounded.

Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said seven of the attackers were killed.

The BBC reports it was the latest in a series of increasingly brazen attacks on Kabul.

The city is now in lockdown with hundreds of security officers patrolling the streets.

More attacks expected

United States envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, says it's likely there will be more such attacks in future.

Six United Nations personnel and three Afghans were killed in an attack on a UN guesthouse in Kabul in October. Earlier that month, suicide bombers attacked the Indian embassy, killing at least 17.

Six people were killed in a suicide attack near a hotel in the Wazir Akbar Khan district in December.

Mr Karzai was re-elected last August in a vote marred by fraud.