Police fought a three-hour gunbattle in the center of an Afghan provincial capital Monday, finally killing at least two Taliban militants who stormed a multistory market with dozens of civilians inside, an official said.
During the shootout, terrified shopkeepers shuttered their doors and residents stayed inside for fear of being caught in the crossfire as army and police rushed to the scene, reportedly backed up by NATO forces. Three civilians and one police officer were wounded in the fighting in the eastern province of Paktia, said the deputy provincial police chief.
AP Television News video from the scene after the operation was over showed a man holding what appeared to be an unexploded suicide vest, but reports differed on how many attackers there were and whether they were wearing explosives.
The Taliban controls most of Paktia province, which borders Pakistan, and the strengthening insurgency has previously launched assaults on the provincial capital, Gardez, about 60 miles south of Kabul.
Shortly after Monday's assault began, officials said that five militants armed with guns and suicide vests had stormed the building near the provincial police headquarters in Gardez and that at least three had been killed.
But Ghulam Dastagir, Paktia's deputy police chief, told the Associated Press by telephone that there were only two attackers armed with assault rifles, a machine gun and about 40 rifle-launched grenades. He said no suicide vests were found when police finally killed the militants and searched the building. A separate statement later from the national Interior Ministry, however, said the attackers were wearing explosives-filled vests.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press that there were five attackers, all wearing suicide vests.
Also Monday, the Defense Ministry said 24 militants were killed in operations the day before.
IRAQ: A suicide bomber attacked the convoy of a city council chief in northern Iraq, killing him and three guards. Violence in Iraq has dropped sharply, but insurgents still carry out attacks like the one in the city of Tal Afar with regularity. The slain official, Hussein Akrash, was affiliated with the country's largest Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, and was a member of the Turkoman minority. The insurgency, dominated by Sunni Arabs, has often targeted minority groups in addition to officials seen as collaborators with the Shiite-led government.