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Militants target Red Cross building in Afghanistan

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Security forces rescued seven foreign aid workers after militants detonated a suicide bomb and waged a gun battle at the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, killing a security guard.


Militants on Wednesday launched a two-hour suicide and gun attack on a Red Cross office in Jalalabad city, east Afghanistan, killing one guard, officials said.

It was the first time that offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross had been targeted since the organisation began work in Afghanistan in 1987.

The assault was the latest in a series of high profile, co-ordinated attacks as insurgents pile pressure on the US-backed government ahead of the withdrawal of 100,000 NATO combat troops by the end of next year.

"A suicide attacker first detonated himself at the gate of the ICRC compound," Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the interior ministry, told AFP.

"Attackers infiltrated the office. Seven (ICRC) foreigners were evacuated, one hurt in the leg."

Sediqqi said the bodies of two attackers had been found and that security forces were completing clearance operations to search for others killed or wounded in the fighting.

Provincial government spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said that one Afghan guard has been killed in the attack, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

"We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," Jacques de Maio, the ICRC's head of operations for South Asia, said in a statement. "Right now, our thoughts go out to the family of our dead colleague."

The ICRC statement said that the office had been attacked by "unidentified armed men" killing an Afghan guard and leaving an expatriate staff member "slightly wounded".

The assault came on the same day that Afghan security forces killed six militants who stormed the Panjshir provincial governor's office in a pre-dawn strike in one of the country's most peaceful areas.

The Taliban launched their annual "spring offensive" last month, vowing to use suicide blasts to inflict maximum casualties and destabilise President Hamid Karzai's regime.

Wednesday's violence followed a major assault on Kabul on Friday, when the Taliban launched a similar attack on an international compound in the city centre and triggered a battle that lasted several hours.

All four militants, one policeman and two civilians died in that incident, which targeted the International Organisation for Migration.

Jalalabad is situated on the key route from the Pakistani border region -- where many militants are based -- to Kabul, and it has been the scene of repeated attacks in recent years.

Seven suicide bombers attacked a police base in Jalalabad in March, killing five officers.

In February, a bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into the gates of the walled compound of the National Directorate of Security spy agency and detonated his bombs, killing two intelligence workers.

Nine Taliban suicide attackers also targeted the NATO base at Jalalabad airport in early December, killing five people and wounding several foreign troops.

Hardline Taliban Islamists have waged a 12-year insurgency against the Afghan government since being overthrown in a US-led invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The effectiveness of Afghan security forces is crucial to the government's ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency as NATO troops exit by the end of 2014.

The national police, army and special forces are being trained up by the international coalition, but there are widespread fears that they will not be able to impose security across the war-torn country.



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