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Attacks cast shadow on Afghanistan

Terror cell setting root in Kabul, US says

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber assassinated a provincial governor yesterday, and the US military warned that a terror cell has set up in the Afghan capital to target foreign troops.

In the south, NATO said its forces had killed at least 94 Taliban fighters in airstrikes and ground attacks, pushing the reported toll from a nine-day counterinsurgency operation past 420. A top local official said the battle was winding down, and residents said hundreds of militants had fled the area.

The wave of violence, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on America, has cast a grim shadow over Afghanistan.

The insurgency-wracked country is locked into its worst bout of fighting since the US-led ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001 for hosting Osama bin Laden.

A purported Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the assassination of Governor Abdul Hakim Taniwal outside his office in the town of Gardez at lunchtime yesterday.

Taniwal, of eastern Paktia Province, was a former federal minister.

A man with explosives strapped to his body ran toward Taniwal's car and blew himself up, killing Taniwal, his nephew, and his bodyguard and wounding three police officers, US and Afghan officials said.

Mohammed Hanif, who said he speaks for the Taliban, said in a satellite phone call that the bomber was a local Taliban fighter. He also threatened more attacks.

The US military, meanwhile, said a suicide bombing cell was operating in Kabul, with the aim of targeting foreign troops.

Such a development would signal that Afghan insurgents have adopted some terror tactics used in Iraq and are expanding their operations beyond the volatile south and east.

The warning was made two days after a car bomber rammed into a US army convoy near the US Embassy, killing 16 people, including two American soldiers, in the worst such attack in the capital.

Four days earlier, another suicide bomber in Kabul hit a British military convoy, killing one soldier and four Afghans.

``This cell is alive and working and remains very much a threat," Colonel Tom Collins, chief US spokesman, said at a news conference in Kabul. ``Even though international forces may be the target, as we saw on Friday, the vast majority of victims are civilians."

Collins said the coalition had intelligence that a bomber was in the city before Friday's attack, but lacked a description of the attacker or the vehicle he was using.

``Somehow I believe somewhere out there someone knew this guy and had information that could have saved a lot of lives that day had they reported it," he said.

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