KABUL -- Near-simultaneous suicide attacks targeting civilians and government personnel in the Afghan capital, Kabul, have left at least 26 dead and 55 wounded.
Eight suicide bombers are believed to have died while carrying out the midmorning attacks, for which the Taliban has claimed responsibility.
The incidents came one day ahead of a visit by the United States' special envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke.
The most high-profile of the attacks occurred when several armed militants wearing explosive belts stormed the Afghan Justice Ministry, situated next to the presidential compound in the center of Kabul.
The body of a suspected terrorist lies on the ground inside the Justice Ministry in Kabul.
RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Hamid Mohmand reports from the Afghan capital that one attacker blew himself up moments after entering the building, killing and injuring many ministry personnel and visitors.
Two additional attackers are believed to have been killed following a nearly two-hour gun battle with security forces. At least one police officer and an intelligence officer died in the shootout, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
The Interior Ministry has said that one attacker has been arrested after being discovered hiding inside the Justice Ministry building. The attacker was reportedly wearing a belt of explosives.
"The attackers were holding guns. One of them was on the third floor and the other one was on the second floor. They were firing into the offices," Afghan Justice Ministry employee Gul Hamid told RFE/RL. "I saw that they killed one person on the second floor. They were still firing. I managed to escape from the back of the building."'We Did Have Information'
National Security Directorate chief Amarullah Salih, asked about the state of readiness of security forces, acknowledged to journalists that his office had received "generic" information indicating that attacks might take place.
"We did have information, but it was not actionable," Salih said. "It was of a generic nature, suggesting that there will be an attack, a spectacular one, in Kabul involving multiple suicide bombers."
Salih said additional security measures are being adopted, adding: "It is not that we are only active after it happens."
He said intelligence indicates the attacks may have been planned from outside the country.
Afghan police inspect a car that was damaged during one of the suicide attacks in Kabul.
"As they were entering the Ministry of Justice and before starting their indiscriminate killing of the civilians there, they sent three messages to Pakistan calling for the blessing of their mastermind," Salih said. "We are working on that angle of it, as well."
Salih said 21 suspects have been detained for questioning.
In calls made to Afghan and international media, self-described Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid accepted responsibility for the attacks.
Another attack took place in front of the Khorasan hotel in the north of the capital and apparently targeted a passing convoy of Western troops, likely resulting in high casualties.
"Officials confirmed that it was a suicide bombing. And it has killed many people but nobody has the exact figures of those killed," Radio Free Afghanistan's Hamid Mohmand reports. "Officials are only saying that it caused many casualties. A third group of suicide bombers who were trying to enter the Education Ministry building in central Kabul were confronted by the police and were killed before entering that building."More Attacks Expected
Afghan officials have also said that yet another assault, this one on the government's department of corrections, killed up to 10 people, Mohmand reports. He also reports that an attempted attack on the Education Ministry was foiled.
The attacks, coming at the peak of morning activity, caused panic in the Afghan capital, with many businesses and offices closing for the day as people moved to the safety of their homes.
Seven years after being forced out of power, the resurgent Taliban have carried out a number of high-profile, and increasingly lethal, attacks in Afghan cities in recent months.
National Security Directorate chief Salih said more such attacks can be expected.
"Our analysis of the situation is that the enemy will not try to launch frontal attacks against us. They have totally lost or they have never gained that capability to challenge us on the front lines," Salih said. "So, their strategy revolves around attacking soft targets and, preferably, in the large cities of Afghanistan."
To prevent them, Salih added: "We have to be successful, round the clock, seven days a week [and] 365 days a year. And they need to be successful once. That is the difference."