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Suicide Attack On Afghan Capital
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Explosions and gunfire in the centre of the Afghan capital, Kabul, have left at least 17 people dead, officials say.

A suicide bomber detonated explosives near Kabul's main shopping centre. Several smaller blasts followed and two other attackers were shot dead.

A Taliban spokesman said they carried out the attacks. A Frenchman and two policemen are reported to have died.

The violence comes as Nato and Afghan forces continue Operation Moshtarak to tackle the Taliban in Helmand province.

Kabul has been relatively quiet since 18 January, when Taliban bombers and gunmen attacked government targets and shopping malls, killing 12 people.

Friday's attack is also the Taliban's first major raid since the arrest of key leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Pakistan this month.

The BBC's Martin Patience, in Kabul, says the first blast on Friday happened at 0630 local time (0200 GMT) close to the Kabul City Centre shopping area and the Safi Landmark Hotel.

The Park Residence Hotel, popular with foreigners, was also close to the main blast and there are reports that a number of foreign nationals may have been killed.

Indian nationals were said to be staying in hotels in the area.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said one French visitor to Afghanistan had been killed while Agence France-Presse reported Afghan interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary as saying an Italian national was also among the dead.

At least 32 people are reported to have been injured in the attacks.

The situation now appears to be under control but there are reports that one suspected attacker is holed up in the basement of a guesthouse.

At least two smaller explosions had been reported following the main blast and security forces exchanged fire with gunmen for several hours after sealing off the area.

Sirens blared across the city and announcements from loudspeakers warned people to stay indoors.

A British national staying at the Safi Landmark, Brian Briscombe, told the BBC he awoke to shattered glass and smoke.

He stayed in his hotel room for 30 minutes but then decided to leave.

"My hand was gashed and I wanted to get it treated. But a jumpy soldier screamed and almost shot me because he saw my backpack and thought for 10 seconds that I was a suicide bomber. Luckily he calmed down and I was allowed to leave."

Another witness, known only as Dr Azizi, said he was sleeping in his office 200m away when the first explosion occurred.

"After the initial bang, I heard two or more explosions and then gunfire. The message... is that we are not safe. With all the police checkpoints and...military personnel on the streets of Kabul, how do the terrorists still get in?"

Operation Moshtarak continues in Helmand in the south, aiming to drive the Taliban from their strongholds around Nad Ali and Marjah.

On Thursday, Maj Gen Nick Carter, commander of troops in southern Afghanistan, told the BBC there had been "a great deal of progress" in establishing security.

Friday's attack also represents the first major Taliban response to the capture of Mullah Baradar in Karachi in Pakistan.

He was said to be the second in command and to have run the Taliban's leadership council and controlled their finances.

At least four Taliban "shadow governors" of provinces in Afghanistan have also reportedly been arrested in Pakistan.

Source: BBC

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