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Afghan President Escapes Attack - 2004-09-16


Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was forced to cancel a trip to a provincial capital after a rocket hit near the landing site for his helicopter. Afghan authorities say they have detained three people in connection with the attack.

A U.S military helicopter was carrying President Hamid Karzai to the southeastern city of Gardez for his first election campaign appearance when the incident took place.

Witnesses and officials say a rocket fired by unknown insurgents missed the helicopter as it was preparing to land near a school, where hundreds of supporters had gathered to greet Mr. Karzai. The helicopter did not touch down and returned the president to Kabul. There are no reports of casualties.

Speaking to reporters in the Afghan capital, Mr. Karzai played down the significance of the attack. "We were not in the full [aware of the full] picture till we came back and landed in Kabul," he said. "I called the [provincial] governor when I arrived in Kabul and said what was going on, he said nothing; there was just one rocket that came and landed about two kilometers away."

President Karzai dismissed suggestions that his decision to cancel the trip could have disappointed his voters in the region. "No. Not at all, I will be there very soon," he said.

Insurgents linked to the ousted Taleban have claimed responsibility for the attack. The Afghan Interior ministry says that authorities in Gardez, with the help of residents, have detained three suspects in connection with the attack.

Taleban rebels and their al-Qaida allies have vowed to disrupt Afghanistan's first presidential election, scheduled for October 9.

U.S.-backed President Karzai narrowly escaped an assassination attempt two years ago in the southern city of Kandahar. Three people, including the gunman, died in that attack.

Since then, the transitional president has been constantly shadowed by Afghan and American bodyguards.

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