Kabul: Fresh attacks hit Kabul as Taliban gunmen stormed a bank building and fought pitched battles with police on Wednesday on the eve of Afghanistan's second Presidential election.
Security forces fanned out on high alert in a bid to protect the capital from a spike in Taliban violence that has unleashed two suicide attacks and rocket strikes on the relatively peaceful city just days before the vote.
The Taliban said Wednesday's siege was part of a series of attacks planned for the eve of elections after the insurgent militia threatened to accelerate its bid to derail the polls that bolster Western-backed moves to democracy.
Armed police forced their way into the bank after the building was stormed by at least three gunmen. Loud bursts of gunfire echoed as dozens of security forces and intelligence agents gathered outside, said a reporter.
"We have killed three of the attackers inside the bank," Kabul criminal investigation police chief Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada told a news agency. "They were Taliban," he said.
The attack was likely to increase the fears of Afghans about it being safe to go out to vote despite reassurances from authorities and after US and allied forces have stepped up their anti-insurgency offensive.
Faced with widespread fears that poor security will keep the electorate at home, the Afghan government has appealed for a media blackout on reporting attacks in a bid to maximise voter turnout on election day.
The Interior Ministry said the bank attackers were "robbers or thieves" and played down claims it was an insurgent attack.
First Published: Wednesday, August 19, 2009, 12:17