Afghan security forces at the Justice Ministry.

TALIBAN militants launched suicide bomb and gun attacks yesterday on three Afghan government buildings, killing at least 26 people, including eight attackers in one of the most daring assaults on the capital to date.

The defence ministry said eight suicide attackers died in the near-simultaneous strikes on the prisons directorate, and justice and education ministries — the deadliest insurgent attacks in Afghanistan this year.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said 16 suicide attackers had entered the Afghan capital and would carry out a wave of strikes, as the violence sowed panic across the city.

“So far we have registered 26 people killed and 55 wounded,” health ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim said. Most were civilians, he said. Of the eight attackers killed, three managed to blow themselves up and five were shot dead, officials said. Witnesses of the attack on the justice ministry, which is close to the presidential palace in the heart of the capital, said several gunmen burst into the building and opened fire on security guards. Some of the gunmen managed to run up several floors, shooting as they went, they said.

Terrified ministry employees jumped from the windows of the four-storey building, while others locked themselves in their offices as heavy exchanges of gunfire continued for several hours, witnesses said.

Five would-be suicide attackers were killed inside the building, the defence ministry said. A witness said at least one was strapped with explosives. “I saw several of them running into the ministry after a gunfight with police guards at the entrance, right next to the kitchen,” said a cook Juma Khan. “One of them was shot by the security guards. Three of my colleagues were martyred. I saw their bodies,” he said, describing the three as a cleaner, a cook and a painter. As the dramatic assault unfolded, two suicide attackers also struck the prisons directorate in the north of the city, witnesses and officials said.

“I first heard gun shots,” a resident of a nearby house, Mia Agha, said. “I saw a guy around 18 or 20 years old who was hiding behind this vehicle and police were firing at him. He had a pistol and was firing back.

“At one point he pulled a wire from his sleeve and then a blast took place with huge fire and thick smoke. After some minutes a second blast took place at the entrance to the building.”

Agha said he saw many dead and wounded. The interior ministry media office said “four to five” civilians were killed there as well as a policeman, and the area was splashed with blood and body parts. US President Barack Obama is considering doubling the number of US troops fighting against a widening Taliban-led insurgency which now stands at about 37,000.

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