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Afghan security chiefs knew of plot to kill Karzai
Afghanistan RMX103 5560314
Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, address the Afghan lawmakers in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, April 29, 2008. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was warned of the weekend assassination plot against him, Saleh said Tuesday, while admitting failings by security services. - photo by Associated Press
    KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s three top security chiefs managed to hold onto their jobs Tuesday despite admitting before parliament that they failed to prevent an attack on President Hamid Karzai even though they knew about the plot.
    At least one policeman was arrested in the assassination attempt, deepening concerns the Taliban have infiltrated the country’s poorly paid security forces. The attack also exposed the vulnerability of the capital to militants, who are strongest in the volatile south and east.
    A suicide attack Tuesday on counter-narcotics police in the east killed 18 people, including 11 police officers. Thirty-six people, including two Australian journalists, were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
    Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh gave an in-depth explanation to lawmakers of the assault Sunday on a ceremony in Kabul marking Afghanistan’s victory over the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s.
    Karzai and other dignitaries escaped unharmed but three others, including a lawmaker, died.
    Saleh said Karzai had been warned of the threat.
    Authorities arrested a mortar team and three suicide bombers days before the attack, but failed to track down the three gunmen who opened fire Sunday from a hotel room a few hundred yards from where the VIPs were sitting.
    Saleh said the gunmen rented the room 45 days before the attack and stayed locked inside for 36 hours before the shooting. They had stacks of spare ammunition and were text-messaging with their leaders, he said.
    ‘‘We had technical information ... that this work would happen,’’ Saleh told the special National Assembly session broadcast live on national television. ‘‘We passed this information to the national security (adviser) and to the president of Afghanistan.’’
    Yet, despite stringent measures by security services to protect the event, ‘‘the result is that we failed,’’ Saleh said — a rare admission from the secretive intelligence agency.
    Lawmakers later held no-confidence votes against Saleh, Defense Minister Abdur Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel. The votes passed but not with sufficient numbers to press for the men’s ouster.
    Saleh said that during a drive-by inspection of a ceremonial guard, Karzai was in the attackers’ view but was out of their sights once he took his place in a stand with other VIPs.
    As a 21 gun-salute sounded, the gunmen opened fire, hitting lawmakers, soldiers and others. Karzai and foreign dignitaries were whisked to safety by their bodyguards.
    It took two minutes for Afghan forces to suppress the attackers, U.S. Ambassador William Wood, who was also in the stands, said in a statement Tuesday.
    All three assailants died inside the hotel room — one from a gunshot wound and the others apparently by killing themselves with a bomb, Saleh said.
    Several members of the police, intelligence service and the president’s security detail were questioned and one police officer was arrested, Saleh said.
    The arrest heightened concerns about infiltration of the security forces by the Taliban.
    Police officers were suspected in another spectacular attack in January on the Serena Hotel in Kabul. However, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said Tuesday those attackers were disguised in police uniform and were not members of the force. Eight people died in that attack.
    Sunday’s assassination attempt has raised questions about the ability of the Afghan police and army to take greater control of security in Afghanistan. U.S. and NATO-led troops currently provide security in much of the country.
    Still, the White House said it was unfair to criticize Afghan security forces because insurgents managed to launch an attack.
    ‘‘When it comes to dealing with terrorists like the Taliban or al-Qaida, they just have to have even ... a little bit of an impact for everyone to say they had a big victory,’’ White House press secretary Dana Perino said Monday.
    Maj. Martin O’Donnell of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, or ISAF, said alliance troops were in the Khogyani district of Nangahar province at the time of the attack Tuesday targeting counter-narcotics police, but there were no alliance casualties.
    ‘‘If the goal was ISAF, they failed,’’ O’Donnell said. ‘‘But if the goal was to injure and kill Afghans, they succeeded.’’
    Abdul Mohammad, a provincial police official, said the bomb went off in front of the office of the district chief, who was among those hurt.
    Also Tuesday, a NATO soldier was killed and another was wounded during a patrol in Tagab district of Kapisa province, the alliance said. The nationalities of the soldiers were not released.
    Militants launched more than 140 suicide attacks last year. Violence has intensified since the Islamist militia’s ouster from power in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. More than 1,000 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency-related violence so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.
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    Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.