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Militants Kill At Least 16 In Attack On Central Kabul

KABUL (RFE/RL) -- At least 16 people have been killed and more than 36 wounded in a coordinated attack in the central, most fortified part of Kabul.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks targeting guesthouses, which it said were carried out by a group of five atackers, including suicide bombers.

Officials said an Italian diplomat, a Frenchman, and several Indians were among those killed in the early-morning attack on the area, which includes guesthouses, a large shopping area, and some government buildings.

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, speaking in Paris said one Frenchman was confirmed among the dead.

Officials say the dead also included police officers, while eight Indian doctors working in Kabul were among the wounded.

The attacks began soon after dawn with a suicide bombing followed by smaller blasts near the Safi Landmark shopping and hotel complex popular with Westerners.

A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan witnessed the frantic efforts by security forces to treat those injured by the blast.

Shop owner Qadari Samah told Reuters that "I heard a bang when I was in my shop. The glass from the windows fell on my face. And as you can see, they are inside the building and firing outside. You can see that there is gunfire between them and the police."

Adjacent to that complex, suicide attackers targeted the Park Residence Hotel, a guesthouse also frequented by foreigners.

The head of Kabul police's crime investigation department, Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, said a car bomb also flattened the nearby Hamid Guesthouse.

Sayedzada said the area was now fully under the control of Afghan security forces, who exchanged fire with gunmen for several hours after sealing off the area.

Karzai Condemnation

In a statement, President Hamid Karzai "strongly" condemned the attacks and said they would not affect relations with India.

Few people were on the streets on the rainy morning, as Afghanistan commemorated Milad-Ul Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. Sirens blared across the city and announcements from loudspeakers warned people to stay indoors.

An Indian citizen, Kashif, who is staying at a guesthouse close to the site of one of the bombing attacks, told Reuters.

"We were in our room when the firing and blast happened, we did not see people killed or wounded -- we locked the door of our room," he said.

In a telephone call with Western news agencies, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack. Zabiullah Mujahid said five suicide bombers conducted the attacks on two buildings used by foreign citizens.

Kabul has been relatively quiet since January 18, when teams of suicide bombers and gunmen attacked government targets and shopping malls, leaving 12 dead, including seven attackers. A December 2009 attack on a guesthouse in Kabul killed five United Nations’ workers.

The assault came one day after the Afghan flag was raised over the center of the town of Marjah, the focus of a massive offensive by NATO and Afghan forces designed to evict Taliban militants and reinstate government control in southern Afghanistan.