Afghan President Hamid Karzai was the presumed target of an attack on a military parade near Kabul. The attack left three dead, including a tribal chief and one parliament member. (Report: R.Ranucci)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai escaped unharmed Sunday after militants attacked a high-profile military parade with rockets and gunfire, killing three people including an MP and wounding around 10.
The extremist Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the attack which they said showed their ability to strike "wherever we want to" but saw three gunmen shot dead by security forces, the defence ministry said.
Bullets hammered into the back of a stage where the president, Afghan dignitaries and senior international representatives were seated to review the country's most important annual military parade.
The attack erupted soon after Karzai had reached the platform following an inspection of troops and as a 21-gun salute was ringing out across the city to mark the 16th anniversary of the fall of the last communist government.
Bodyguards sprang to cover the president and then whisked him away as people on the stage fell to the floor, Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatimie told AFP, who was just metres away from Karzai.
There were also several large explosions, with one landing just in front of the platform, said Fatimie.
The roughly 3,000 police and troops preparing for the event broke from their formations and fled as security guards stationed across the area returned fire.
The leader of a minority tribe who had been sitting on the stage was killed in the attack, officials said.
Parliamentarian Fazl-Ul Rahman Samkanai died later in hospital, the health minister said. Another MP was among around 10 wounded, including three soldiers.
A 10-year-old boy living in the area was also killed, apparently in return fire, officials said.
Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters later that three attackers armed with machine guns attached with grenade launchers had opened fire from a three-storey building about 500 metres (1,500 feet) from the stage.
"In the return fire by security forces, the three people who started the firing -- all of them have been killed," he said.
Security forces had "identified some people who might have facilitated this act of terrorism," the minister said, without giving details.
"A number of people have been arrested, one or two of them most likely involved in this terrorist attack," he said.
The minister said a commission was appointed to find out who had carried out the attack and how security was breached.
A Taliban spokesman, who called media to claim the attack as it was unfolding, also said three of his group's men were killed.
"Our aim was not to directly hit someone," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told an AFP reporter 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 annual Victory Day parade -- which normally includes a display of troops, tanks and aircraft -- is a show of might for the Afghan army, which was in ruins at the fall of the Taliban regime and is being rebuilt with international help, notably from the United States.
The attack was broadcast live on television and about an hour later Karzai appeared on camera to reassure 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."
The US-led military coalition, meanwhile, said it killed several insurgents in a raid Saturday on a Taliban hideout in Kapisa province, adjoining Kabul, targeted at a rebel leader planning to attack Sunday's ceremony.
Civilians also died, a spokeswoman told AFP although she was not able to give details.
The 1996-2001 Taliban government was ousted in a US-led invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leaders after the 9/11 attacks.
They have regrouped to wage an insurgency that last year left 8,000 people dead, mostly rebel fighters but including 1,500 civilians.
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 his chopper but missed.
The United Nations and the governments of Germany, India and other countries expressed outrage at Sunday's attack.
Date created : 2008-04-27