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Afghan officials say Taliban insurgents attacked election office

KABUL, Afghanistan -– Taliban insurgents opposed to Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential vote stormed an election office in Kabul on Tuesday and killed five people, officials said.

The sound of gunfire echoed across Kabul’s Darul Aman neighborhood for several hours as insurgents battled Afghan security forces while dozens of election commission workers remained trapped in the building. At the end, authorities said 70 people were rescued from the siege but two police officers, two civilians and one candidate running for a provincial office were killed.

Eight others, including four police officers and four employees of the Independent Election Commission office were wounded, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.

It was the latest brazen attack by the Taliban aimed at disrupting the April 5 election to choose a successor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Last week, teenage gunmen penetrated security at a luxury hotel in Kabul and killed nine people during an hours-long gun battle with Afghan security forces. The gunmen were killed by police.

The attacks have sharply raised concerns about security in the capital and prompted some officials to worry that voters would shy away from the polls. The Taliban issued a warning last month that it would target anyone who participated in the election, including voters.

“I condemn the Taliban’s attack on a Kabul IEC office,” the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, James B. Cunningham, wrote on Twitter. “The Taliban’s cowardly act will not deter Afghans from holding elections on 4/5.”

The attack took place not far from the home of Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister who is considered one of the leading candidates in the race to replace Karzai. Neither Ghani nor any of his aides were believed to have been injured, and the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in a statement that the militants’ target was the election office.

“These are extremely important elections for Afghanistan,” said Nicholas Haysom, the ranking United Nations diplomat in Kabul. “Afghans from all parts of the country should have an equal opportunity to have their say on the future direction of their country.”

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Twitter: @SBengali

Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

 

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