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2 Taliban attacks in Afghanistan show dangers loom

KABUL, Afghanistan — Four gunmen with pistols stuffed into their socks attacked a luxury hotel frequented by foreigners in Afghanistan's capital Thursday, just hours after militants killed 11 people in an audacious assault on a police station.

All the assailants were killed in both standoffs, but made their point: Afghan forces face a huge challenge securing upcoming elections in what will be a major test of their abilities as foreign troops wind down their combat mission at the end of this year.

The attacks show the Taliban are following through on their threat to use violence to disrupt the April 5 vote, which will be the first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Islamic militant movement. President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault on the Serena hotel and the earlier attack in Jalalabad, an economic hub near the border with Pakistan.

"Our people, if they decide to attack any place, they can do it," he said.

The violence began before dawn Thursday when a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden car outside the police station in Jalalabad.

Six gunmen rushed into the station as two more bombs exploded nearby, one hidden in a motorized rickshaw and another in a vegetable cart.

That prompted a fierce battle that lasted more than four hours, with Afghan police and soldiers chasing gunmen down the street amid gunfire and smoke billowing into the blue sky. Security forces killed seven attackers, deputy Interior Minister Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi said.

Police said the attack killed 10 officers, including a city district police chief and a university student caught in the crossfire, and wounded 15 policemen.

Hours later, four young men entered the Serena hotel — considered one of the safest places to stay in Kabul — about 6 p.m., telling guards they were going to dinner, officials said. To enter the hotel, guests must pass through an exterior gate and undergo a metal detector search and pat down.

Inside they drew the pistols hidden in their socks and opened fire, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

A hotel worker named Gulam Ali told his brother via cell phone that the guests and staff had taken refuge in the basement.

The attackers appeared to be about 18 years old; all had been killed, Sediqqi said. Two security guards were wounded.

2 Taliban attacks in Afghanistan show dangers loom 03/20/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2014 10:29pm]

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