KABUL - Taliban militants on Saturday attacked the headquarters of the Afghan Independent Election Commission, the latest in a series of attacks across the capital. The assault, in which five militants were killed, took place shortly before a press conference was to begin on the April 5 vote.
The sound of shooting echoed once again in the streets of Kabul on Saturday. This time, Taliban militants climbed onto a roof to shoot rockets into the heavily-protected compound of the Independent Election Commission.
Election officials ran for refuge in special safe rooms in the building, built to withstand such attacks.
The Taliban quickly took responsibility for the assault, the latest in a series of attacks across the city that has left more than two dozen dead, including three children, in the last 10 days.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqui said the militants were holed up in a building near the IEC complex and were surrounded by elite police forces.
“There’s a house, an empty house, a private house, which was taken by some four terrorists, and they have been surrounded by the police. We are still waiting for the standoff to be over. They entered that house to launch attacks on the IEC office,” he said.
As Seddiqui was speaking, the militant group was posting live updates of its version of the gun battle over Twitter. By mid-afternoon the group claimed the “martyrdom attack” was ongoing and all the fighters were still alive.
Kabul police chief Mohammad Zahir said by late afternoon most of the fighting was over, and there were no casualties among IEC personnel or security forces. Zahir confirmed reports the attackers had gained entry to the house dressed in burqas, the traditional covering used by women in Afghanistan.
The assault, which took place not far from the airport, forced one plane arriving from western Afghanistan to turn back.
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The Taliban, which dismisses the April 5 elections as a Western sham, has vowed to disrupt the vote and punish those who participate. The militant network has claimed responsibility for a spate of bloody attacks across the country.
The constant bomb and gun violence comes just a week before Afghanistan’s presidential elections.
Many worry that the attacks will deter voters from casting their ballots. Already several hundred polling stations have been shut down.
But Seddiqui insisted the violence would not derail what is seen as a pivotal election for Afghanistan.
“We believe our elections have lots of enemies, and they are showing themselves, they will attack, but these attacks will not deter us or the people of Afghanistan from going to the polling stations,” he said.
The Independent Election Commission is responsible for administering and supervising the elections. Militants armed with bombs and guns attacked one of the IEC sub-offices in Kabul earlier in the week. Ten people were killed, including five militants.
The April vote is the first time power will be transferred to a new political leader via the ballot since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.