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Bomber kills 5 in Afghan capital

Taliban claims it was behind the attack at a government ministry. Two assailants are believed to have fled.

October 31, 2008|Laura King | King is a Times staff writer.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Underscoring the deteriorating security situation in the Afghan capital, a suicide bomber managed Thursday to make his way into a heavily guarded government ministry in the city center and set off a powerful explosion. At least five other people were killed and more than a dozen hurt.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which President Hamid Karzai's office condemned as "heinous."

The scene at the Information and Culture Ministry was one of chaos in the wake of the blast, with officials shouting and police muscling bystanders away. Broken glass was sprayed onto the busy street in front of the ministry, which is lined with shops. One side of the building collapsed, and the aqua-colored front gates were bent and twisted by the force of the explosion.

Authorities said that as many as two other assailants were believed to have taken part in the attack, but had apparently escaped. The death toll provided by various officials differed, but by day's end Karzai's office said five "civilians" -- people other than the bomber -- were killed in the explosion.

Witnesses and officials gave varying accounts of how the bombing unfolded. There was an exchange of gunfire at the ministry's entrance about 11 a.m., shortly before the explosion rocked its main hall, according to police. A ministry employee, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by militants, said security guards shot and wounded the bomber as he was entering the building, but that he managed to set off his explosives.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said three attackers had taken part in the bombing. He said they made their way through the main gate by throwing hand grenades at the guards.

A witness, Mohammed Alam, said he heard several small explosions before a deafeningly large one.

It was unclear how the armed attackers managed to approach the building. Security in the area is heavy; the presidential palace is only a few hundred yards away.

The attack contributed to a growing sense of insecurity in Kabul, where violence has been increasing even though Western military officials insist that insurgents do not have a sizable foothold in the capital.

Kabul has been hit by several high-profile attacks in recent months. In July, about 60 people were killed in a massive truck bombing at the gates of the Indian Embassy. In April, Karzai escaped an assassination attempt as he was attending a military parade.

In the last two weeks, three foreigners have been gunned down in the capital. One was a Briton who worked for a Christian charity, and the others, a South African and a Briton, were the two top officials in Afghanistan for the international shipping service DHL.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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Special correspondent M. Karim Faiez contributed to this report.

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