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Explosions, gunfire shake Afghan capital

A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over Kabul, Afghanistan, during a visit of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Thursday, April 12, 2012. NATO said Thursday it is on track to fully hand over responsibility for securing Afghanistan to local forces
A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over Kabul, Afghanistan, during a visit of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Thursday, April 12, 2012. NATO said Thursday it is on track to fully hand over responsibility for securing Afghanistan to local forces by the end of 2014 as scheduled.
Musadeq Sadeq, Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Militants launched a series of coordinated attacks in the Afghan capital Sunday, with blasts and gunfire rocking three neighborhoods that are home to Afghan government buildings, Western embassies and NATO bases.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the ongoing assault in Kabul in a text message to The Associated Press. He said a group of armed suicide bombers launched an attack on the NATO forces headquarters, the parliament building across town and a number of diplomatic residences in Kabul.

The attacks were the first in the heavily guarded capital since a shooting inside the Interior Ministry in February in which a ministry employee turned a gun on NATO advisers and shot two soldiers dead.

More than 10 explosions in all rocked the capital Sunday, and heavy gunfire shook the city for more than an hour after the initial blast. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

There were also attacks in three other eastern cities at about the same time. Details were sketchy and the fighting was still going on. The Taliban spokesman did not provide any information about attacks outside the capital.

Last week, Mujahid said in a statement that Taliban planners were preparing to launch a spring offensive. In a statement posted on a Taliban website on Thursday, he said NATO officials should have patience, because Taliban commanders would wait for the "appropriate time" to launch attacks.

The first explosions in Kabul struck the central Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, which is home to a number of embassies, including that of the U.S., as well as a NATO base. Gunfire erupted soon after the blasts, forcing people out in the street to quickly take cover. Smoke could be seen rising from a few buildings in the neighborhood as sirens wailed.

The American Embassy said in a statement saying that there were attacks "in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy."

Militants who had staked out positions in a tall building were firing rockets in different directions, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. It was not immediately clear what they were targeting, but shots appeared to be focusing on the nearby British Embassy.

At about the same time, residents reported a blast near the parliament building across town. A police officer in the area, Mohammad Assan, said there was an attack involving shooting near parliament.

On the outskirts of the city, militants also targeted a NATO base known as Camp Warehouse with mortar fire, according to an AP reporter at the scene. Turkish and Greek forces at the base were responding with heavy-caliber machine gun fire.

A police officer said suicide bomber had occupied a building near the base and was shooting toward the Kabul Military Training Center on Jalalabad road. The officer spoke anonymously because he was not an authorized spokesman.

The other assaults were in the capital cities of the provinces of Logar, Paktia and Nangarhar.

In the Logar province capital of Pul-e-Alam, provincial police chief Ghulam Shakhi said militants had entered a building that belongs to the education department, which is near a building used by the Afghan intelligence service, and a gunbattle was under way.

In Paktia province, militants were shooting sporadically from a building across from a university in the provincial capital of Gardez, said the deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Zaman. He said Afghan security forces have surrounded the building. The deputy governor, Abdul Rahman Mangal, said they believe two or three suicide bombers are involved in the attack.

NATO said it was aware of reports of an explosion in the proximity of a coalition installation near Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, but could provide no details about the blast.

Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Amir Shah contributed to this report.