(AFP) – Apr 27, 2008
KABUL (AFP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai escaped unharmed Sunday after militants attacked a high-profile military parade with rockets and gunfire, killing at least one person and wounding 11 including legislators.
The extremist Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the daring attack, denying however it was an assassination attempt on Karzai.
Bullets apparently from sniper fire ricocheted off the top of a stage where the president and other officials had gathered to review the parade, a witness told AFP.
There were also several large explosions, likely from rocket-propelled grenades, other witnesses said.
Karzai and dozens of assembled cabinet members, ambassadors and US military commanders ducked for cover as the onslaught began, officials said.
Bodyguards immediately surrounded Karzai while others shouted to the fleeing crowd, "Don't run, you'll be hit," a reporter at the scene said.
Karzai was whisked away to safety in a motorcade as gunfire raged for around 15 minutes.
A tribal chief in the crowd was killed and 11 other people wounded, Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP.
"Two or three parliament members have been wounded," he said, citing reports from hospitals.
The Taliban said three of its men were killed, but this was not immediately confirmed by security officials.
Shortly after the incident, which was broadcast live on television, the president appeared on camera to re-assure the public and announce some of the attackers had already been caught.
"Fortunately Afghan security forces quickly surrounded them. Some of them were captured," Karzai said. "Everything is calm, rest assured."
In a separate e-mailed statement, Karzai said he had immediately ordered authorities to "seriously and urgently" investigate what had happened.
"The army and police forces are maintaining security in the city and the situation is under control," the statement said.
The attack erupted after Karzai had taken the stage following an inspection of troops and as a 21-gun salute was ringing out across the city.
Tight security was in place for Afghanistan's largest annual parade, which was celebrating 16 years since the fall of the last communist government.
The insurgent Taliban movement, which was in power between 1996 and 2001, said it had carried out the attack to show its ability to strike at will.
"We fired rockets at the scene of the celebration," a spokesman for the insurgent group, Zabihullah Mujahed, told an AFP reporter.
"We had placed six personnel in the area," he said. "Three of our men have been killed."
"Our aim was not to directly hit someone," Mujahed said when asked if the intention was to kill Karzai. "We just wanted to show to the world that we can attack anywhere we want to."
The Taliban are waging a deadly insurgency against the US-backed government and its army along with thousands of foreign troops in the country trying to restore security.
The fighting last year left 8,000 people dead, most of them rebel fighters.
Karzai has survived several assassination attempts: in 2002 a guard opened fire on his vehicle in the southern city of Kandahar.
In 2004, two rockets were fired at a US chopper carrying Karzai to an event in the eastern province of Paktia but missed.
Last year Taliban fired rockets at a meeting being addressed by the president but said later they did not know he was there.
Referring to the ceremony marking the end of communism after a bitter resistance struggle, the United Nations said the attackers "have shown their utter disrespect for the history and people of Afghanistan."
The annual parade -- which normally includes a display of troops, tanks and military aircraft -- is a show of might for the Afghan army which was in ruins at the fall of the Taliban regime and is rebuilt with international help, notably from the United States.
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