KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan security forces raided a Kabul hide-out Wednesday where militants with suspected links to the attack on President Hamid Karzai were holed up, a top official said. Seven people died in the pre-dawn raid, including a child.
Militants hiding in a mud-brick house and security forces traded rocket-propelled grenade and automatic gunfire for several hours in western Kabul. Families evacuated the area as explosions reverberated and gunfire pierced the air.
Afghan Intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh said the government troops destroyed the two-story house with heavy weapons fire when it was clear the militants would not surrender.
Two militants, a woman and a child were among those killed, Saleh said. Three intelligence agents also died, Saleh said. One of the dead militants had supplied weapons used in the attack on Karzai, Saleh said.
Saleh also said Wednesday that the plot to kill Karzai over the weekend was hatched in lawless tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan. He said there was no evidence that Pakistan's government or its intelligence agencies were involved in the assassination attempt Sunday.
"We have no evidence whether ... the operation has had any mercy or go-ahead from the government of Pakistan and (its) special agencies," Saleh told reporters in Kabul. "There (is) very, very strong evidence suggesting that Pakistan's soil once again has been used to inflict pain on our nation."
The militants involved in the weekend plot were in phone contact with people in Pakistan's Bajaur and North Waziristan tribal areas and the main northwestern city of Peshawar, he said.
In an initial reaction, Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the allegation that the attack on Karzai had its roots in Pakistan's tribal areas appeared "baseless."
"Anybody can say that militants (in the tribal areas) have done this or that," Abbas said. "How can one validate such claims?"
Afghanistan often accuses Pakistan of harboring leaders of the Taliban insurgency against Karzai's government, although Pakistan denies it. Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders and fighters hide in the volatile border region between the two countries.
Wednesday's raid was part of a wider operation in which six other militant suspects were detained in two other locations in the capital, Saleh said.
Afghan security services are under pressure to crack any militant cells in Kabul after the assassination attempt on Karzai during a military parade. The U.S.-backed president escaped injury but a lawmaker and two other people were killed.
Saleh told Parliament on Tuesday that his agency knew about the plot to kill the president but failed to locate the attackers in time.
The Taliban militia that was driven from power by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 claimed responsibility for the weekend attack, which underscored the fragile grip of Karzai's government in the face of an escalating insurgency.
The attack also showed the capital's vulnerability to militants who have long been strongest in the volatile south and east.