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President Karzai has a narrow escape

Afghan President Hamid Karzai escapes unhurt after an assassination attempt by Taliban fighters in Kabul.

world Updated: Apr 28, 2008 01:25 IST
Omar Sobhani

Afghan President Hamid Karzai escaped unhurt on Sunday from an assassination attempt by Taliban fighters who fired guns and rockets at an official celebration near the presidential palace in Kabul.

Karzai, government ministers, former warlords, diplomats and the military top brass ducked for cover after gunfire sounded at the event to mark the 16th anniversary of the fall of the Afghan communist government to the mujahideen.

Karzai later addressed the nation on state television.

“Today, the enemies of Afghanistan, the enemies of Afghanistan’s security and progress tried to disrupt the ceremony and cause disorder and terror,” he said.

“Afghanistan’s military forces surrounded them quickly and arrested some of the suspects.”

Three people were killed — a parliamentarian, the head of a minority group and a 10-year-old child — and 10 were wounded, officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said three of its fighters were killed.

British ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles was standing on the front row of the dais alongside the US envoy to Kabul.

“It was coming to the end of the 21-gun salute. I saw an explosion and a puff of dust to the left of the parade and then heard the crackle of small-arms fire from all directions,” he said. “My bodyguard frog-marched me away.”

All cabinet members and foreign diplomats at the parade along with General Dan McNeill, US commander of international forces in Afghanistan, were safe and well, spokesmen said.

NATO condemned the attack and said it would make no difference to the alliance’s involvement in Afghanistan.

“NATO will continue to support the Afghan Government and people in defending their security and their democracy," Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement.

The Taliban fire appeared to come from a building a few hundred metres from the site, a road which is blocked off for official parades, close to the presidential palace.

“Three of our attackers have been killed and three managed to escape. Small arms and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) were used in the attack,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said from an undisclosed location.