JALALABAD: Seven Taliban suicide attackers stormed a police station in the centre of Jalalabad city in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing 10 policemen in a major assault ahead of the presidential election.
The Taliban have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the election on April 5, and a spokesman for the insurgents claimed responsibility for the early-morning suicide strike which also left a civilian dead.
“Ten policemen, including the district police chief, were killed and 14 police were wounded,” deputy interior minister Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told AFP. “One civilian was also killed, and all seven attackers.
Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the interior ministry, said one or two attackers had holed up in a small room inside the police station before they were finally killed by security forces.
– Bomb scatters debris –
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the attack began when a mini-truck loaded with explosives was detonated at the station’s entrance.
The blast left debris littered across the surrounding streets as security forces cordoned off the scene.
Homayoun Zaheer, chief doctor at Jalalabad hospital, told AFP that a total of 20 people had been treated for injuries.
The area of the attack includes the compound of the governor of Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital, several other government buildings and the state-run television station.
Ten days ago Taliban leaders vowed to target the presidential election, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces before the vote to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.
Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence, with 31 civilians and 26 soldiers and police killed on polling day alone in 2009, as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls.
On Tuesday a suicide bomber killed 16 people at a crowded market in the northern province of Faryab. There was no claim of responsibility for that attack.
Another bloodstained election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state system.
NATO combat troops are withdrawing from the country after 13 years of fighting a fierce Islamist insurgency, which erupted when the Taliban were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Karzai, who is barred from serving a third term in office, has consistently said Afghanistan will hold a safe and clean election, despite previous violence and allegations of massive fraud when he won the last poll five years ago.
The election front-runners are Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in 2009, former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani.
The next president will face a testing new era as the Afghan army and police take on the Taliban without the assistance of 53,000 NATO combat troops.