Planned Taliban attack on day care goes awry

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban assailants apparently thought they were attacking an unprotected Christian-run day care center. But they mistakenly burst into the compound next door, where a U.S. government contractor's employees were heavily armed and ready, according to accounts that the contractor and the Afghan police gave Friday of a wild four-hour shootout here.

The contractor, Roots of Peace, which runs agricultural projects financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, had taken the precaution of blocking its front gate with an armored Land Cruiser, which guards used to take cover behind and shoot at the attackers, said Gary Kuhn, the group's president, interviewed by telephone from its headquarters in San Rafael, Calif.

That slowed the attackers enough for the guards and the five foreign residents to retreat into the house and upstairs. "There's a circular staircase which is very hard to take cover on. One tried coming up it, and the guard shot him," Mr. Kuhn said, citing accounts from his staff members in Kabul.

Two of the residents, Americans, hid in their bedroom closets. "One very big, tall man hid in a closet and piled clothes on top of himself, while the Taliban were shooting in his room, throwing flash grenades, and even opened the closet door but didn't see him," said Heidi Kuhn, the group's chief executive and Mr. Kuhn's wife, also interviewed by telephone in California. "It's a miracle all of them escaped."

Gary Kuhn said the bedroom gunman might have been a police officer, since the Taliban assailants were unlikely to have used flash grenades, designed to stun and frighten, not kill.

While the gun battle was underway, next door at the Christian-run day care center that had no armed guards and normally left its front door open, police were able to rescue two dozen foreigners, according to Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, the deputy interior minister, who went to the scene. Their nationalities were unclear, but they appeared to be Americans or Europeans.

The shootout was the latest in a series of deadly attacks on foreign journalists, aid workers and visitors since January, in the midst of heavy security for the Afghan presidential election campaign.

The attack came less than a week after suicidal gunmen invaded the Serena Hotel, killing nine people, including a prominent journalist and most of his family. This month, a Swedish journalist was killed in the diplomatic quarter by insurgents who accused him of spying. In January, an attack on a restaurant killed 13 foreigners, many of them relief workers and employees of international organizations.

Friday's attack took place in Kabul's well-to-do Karte Seh area where many foreign aid groups have offices and homes.


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