- The Guardian,
- Monday April 28 2008
President Hamid Karzai survived an assassination attempt yesterday when Taliban militants fired gunshots and rockets at a military parade in central Kabul. Three people, including an MP, were killed.
Cabinet ministers, generals and foreign diplomats ducked for cover after shots rang out at the heavily guarded ceremony near the presidential palace. Bodyguards bundled Karzai into one of a convoy of vehicles that sped away.
Live coverage on state television showed two turbaned MPs slumped in their seats, one about 30 metres from Karzai. One died later, as did a minority leader and a 10-year-old girl.
Television coverage was cut as rockets exploded in a nearby street. Uniformed bandsmen and some soldiers joined hundreds of others scrambling to safety.
Karzai appeared on television less than an hour later, reassuring Afghans he was alive and appealing for calm.
"Today, the enemies of Afghanistan, the enemies of Afghanistan's security and progress tried to disrupt the ceremony and cause disorder and terror," he said. "Afghanistan's military forces surrounded them quickly and arrested some of the suspects."
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the attack disproved Nato claims that the insurgency was weakening. "Three of our attackers have been killed and three managed to escape. Small arms and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] were used in the attack," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters from an undisclosed location.
"Afghan and Nato authorities this year repeatedly said the Taliban are on the verge of annihilation ... Now it is has been proved to them the Taliban not only have the ability to operate in the provinces, but even in Kabul."
Nato condemned the attack and said it would make no difference to its involvement. "Nato will continue to support the Afghan government and people in defending their security and their democracy," the secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said in a statement.
Among the foreign officials in the stand were the US and British ambassadors and General Dan McNeill, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan. All escaped unhurt.
UK envoy Sherard Cowper-Coles was standing in the front row. "It was coming to the end of the 21-gun salute. I saw an explosion and a puff of dust to the left of the parade and then heard the crackle of small-arms fire from all directions," he said. "My bodyguard frogmarched me away."
The military event occurred on the 16th anniversary of the victory of Mujahideen fighters over the Soviet-backed communist government.
The attackers fired from a three-storey building overlooking the parade ground, which is opposite Kabul's largest mosque. There had been tight security in the city for days beforehand.
Afghan intelligence rounded up 100 people from the surrounding area for questioning.
The assassination attempt was the third since 2001 and the first in Kabul. Karzai has survived several such attempts since he came to power after US-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
Taliban insurgents regrouped and relaunched their insurgency two years ago and now fight daily battles with Afghan and foreign troops, mainly in the south and east, and have mounted scores of suicide attacks throughout the country.
US-led forces killed several militants on Saturday in a raid north-east of Kabul, targeting a man involved in bomb attacks who was planning to disrupt ceremonies on Sunday. Several civilians were wounded in the ensuing battle in which artillery and air strikes were called in, the US military said.
Karzai has repeatedly offered to hold peace talks with the Taliban, but the hardline Islamist militants have said they will fight on until they topple him and have driven out the more than 50,000 foreign troops based in Afghanistan.