Afghan president safe after fleeing gunfire at Kabul event

Eds: UPDATES with official saying nine wounded. ADDS photo.

AP Photo KAB107, KAB106, KAB109, KAB105


Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Suspected Taliban militants attacked a ceremony attended by the Afghan president on Sunday, unleashing automatic weapons fire that sent foreign dignitaries and senior members of the government fleeing for cover.

President Hamid Karzai, who escaped unharmed, later appeared on television saying several suspects in the attack had been arrested.

Karzai said that "the enemy of Afghanistan" tried to disrupt the ceremony but were thwarted by security forces.

A statement from the presidential palace said Karzai, all Cabinet members and foreign diplomats were safe. But nine people, including two lawmakers, were wounded, said military hospital official Ahmad Zia Aftali.

Hundreds of people fled in chaos as shots rang out, just as the national anthem ended at a ceremony to mark the 16th anniversary of Afghanistan's victory over Soviet invasion.

Shots appeared to come from ruined houses about few hundred yards from where the VIPs were seated. A live TV broadcast of the event quickly cut out.

Karzai was escorted from scene, surrounded by bodyguards, in one of four black Landcruisers. A U.S. embassy official said U.S. Ambassador William Wood also escaped unharmed.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack against Karzai, saying four militants with suicide vests and guns were nearby.

Sirajudin, a police officer at the scene, said he saw two people firing AK47 assault rifles from a house toward the area were Karzai and other dignitaries were sitting.

TV footage showed a couple of dignitaries slump in their seats as the shooting began. They appeared to be lawmakers.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed said four insurgents near the national stadium where the event was held were wearing suicide vests and carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades to attack Karzai. He spoke to an AP reporter by phone from an undisclosed location.