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Taliban Kill Five In Brazen Kabul Attack

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now to Afghanistan, where there was a brazen assault today. Taliban fighters attacked the crowded government ministry in downtown Kabul. Five people were killed. At least 20 were wounded. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson sent the story from Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The militants stormed the Ministry of Information and Culture, which is located in a heavily-guarded part of Kabul not far from the presidential palace. Afghan officials say two of the men ran toward the building with their guns blazing and killed a policeman guarding the entrance. A Taliban spokesman says the gunmen also used hand grenades. They and a third man carrying explosives then rushed inside.

Officials say the bomber detonated his explosives in a first floor conference room, where a ceremony was underway. The blast caused one of the ministry's walls to collapse. Around the same time, one of the gunmen headed upstairs, where high-ranking ministry officials have their offices. Officials say that militant was arrested before he reached any of the offices, although the Taliban on its website claims that both gunmen escaped.

The attack was the worst in Kabul since the car bombing at the Indian Embassy in July killed more than 60 people. A multipronged Taliban attack similar to the one today occurred in January at the Serena Hotel, which is near the Information Ministry. That assault was linked to al-Qaeda operatives, although Taliban leaders have lately sought to distance themselves from Osama bin Laden's group.

The ministry bombing comes as a growing number of Afghan and foreign officials are calling for negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups to end the violence. Three days ago, a joint delegation of senior Afghan and Pakistani clerics and tribal elders who met in Islamabad agreed to formerly reach out to the insurgents.

But such talks about talks haven't lessened Taliban violence. In recent weeks, the militant group has carried out unusually brazen attacks, like the one on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Southern Helman Province. Taliban fighters have also hijacked a number of civilian buses on major highways, shooting or beheading some of the passengers. On Monday, insurgents shot down a U.S. helicopter in Wardak province west of Kabul. In a written statement after today's bombing, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the Taliban of undermining efforts by his government to seek a peaceful solution. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.