KABUL // Eight Taliban gunmen wearing suicide vests attacked three Afghan government buildings today in a co-ordinated assault that killed 20 people in the heart of Kabul just ahead of a planned visit from the new US envoy to the region. The attacks in a city dense with barricades and armed guards underscored the difficulty of fending off the Taliban even with abundant troops and weaponry as the US beefs up its presence. The assailants sent three text messages to the leader of their terror cell in Pakistan before launching Wednesday's assault, said Amrullah Saleh, chief of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, underlining the links between militants in the two countries. Five men armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the justice ministry in late morning, shooting at workers and temporarily trapping the minister and scores of others inside, witnesses said. The gunmen appeared to hold the building for about two hours before Afghan security forces regained control about midday. At about the same time, two men in suicide vests blew themselves up at the ministry's correction department across town. A third assailant in a suicide vest was shot as he tried to force his way into the education ministry, about one kilometre from the justice ministry attack, said defence ministry spokesman Gen Mohammad Zahir Azimi. At least 20 people were killed in the attacks and 57 wounded, said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the interior minister. All eight attackers died, Azimi said, bringing the total death toll to 28. Zabiullah Mujaheed, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the attacks were in response to the alleged mistreatment of Taliban prisoners in Afghan government jails. "We have warned the Afghan government to stop torturing our prisoners," Mr Mujaheed said. "Today we attacked justice ministry compounds." Mr Saleh, the intelligence chief, said officials had intelligence indicating a "spectacular" attack involving multiple suicide bombers was imminent, but said they did not have enough specifics to prevent it. He compared today's attacks to the assault on hotels, markets and a train station in Mumbai last November that killed 164 in India. Indian officials have blamed the Mumbai attack on the Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba. Mr Saleh did not offer any more specifics. 21 suspects were detained, he said. The Taliban regularly use suicide bombings in their assaults on Afghan and foreign troops, but attackers have rarely made it inside the barricaded and guarded compounds of government buildings in the capital. * AP
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