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Gunmen carry out pre-dawn rocket attack on Kabul airport Security forces kill 4 attackers

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 17, (Agencies): Gunmen carried out a predawn rocket attack on Kabul International Airport on Thursday, temporarily shutting down the facility and setting off a gunbattle with security forces in which four attackers were killed, officials said. The militants occupied two buildings which were under construction some 700 meters (yards) north of the facility, and were using them as a base to direct rockets and gunfire toward the airport and international jet fighters flying over Kabul, said Afghan army Gen Afzal Aman. Kabul Police Chief Mohammed Zahir Zahir later said four of the attackers were killed and that the attack was halted without any civilian or police casualties.

The pre-dawn attack comes during a tense time in Afghanistan, as a recount is underway from the disputed second round of a presidential election seen as key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year. Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the airport attack in a call to The Associated Press. Aman said several rockets hit the airport but no planes were damaged. The airport hosts civilian traffic and serves as a base for NATO-led forces that have been fighting the Taleban and other insurgents for more than a decade. Rocket attacks near the airport are not rare, but are not usually this close.

Alarms sounded at the US Embassy in Kabul, as they usually do when there is an attack in the city, as ISAF jet fighters patrolled overhead. A Kabul airport official told Reuters all flights had been diverted to other cities. In such circumstances, passenger planes are immediately diverted to other Afghan cities such as Mazar-i-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west. “Due to the closeness of the attack to the runway, Kabul airport is now closed to all flights,” the official said. Planes could be heard circling above Kabul as the attack unfolded. A Reuters witness near the scene earlier saw black smoke billowing above the airport and heard several explosions.

A car had been set on fire not far from the scene. On Tuesday, a car bomb detonated in a crowded market killed 43 people and wounded at least 74 in the eastern province of Paktika, close to Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan. The attack came nearly a week after US Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker a deal to carry out a full audit of last month’s presidential runoff following allegations of fraud by supporters of both candidates. Unofficial and disputed preliminary results showed former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of his rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, but Abdullah’s supporters have said that is only because of widespread fraud.

Since fraud was alleged on both sides, the deal provides that every one of the 8 million ballots will be audited under national and international supervision over the next three or four weeks. Neither the election nor the weekend deal has had any visible effect on security in the country, which has long seen near-daily attacks. On Tuesday a suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives near a busy market and a mosque in eastern Afghanistan, killing dozens of people in one of the deadliest insurgent attacks on civilians since the 2001 US-led invasion to topple the Taleban.

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