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UPI NewsTrack TopNews

Sept. 13, 2011 at 12:00 PM   |   Comments

Afghan militants hit U.S. Embassy, NATO HQ

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Suicide bombers and gunmen carried out a coordinated attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters Tuesday in Kabul, Afghanistan, officials said.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Kerri S. Hannan told The Washington Post embassy personnel were ordered to take cover, but provided no other information. It was unclear whether all personnel were accounted for.

U.S. Marines were seen on the roof of the embassy, the BBC reported.

Calls to the NATO facility were not answered, the Post said.

At least 10 explosions and automatic weapons fire were reported, The New York Times said.

It was unclear whether anyone was injured or killed in the attack. Times reported one rocket apparently hit a private school minibus. Witnesses reported seeing children being carried away bleeding and perhaps unconscious.

The attack was launched from a tall building under construction near an area that includes the U.S. Embassy compound and the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force.

"We don't know how many suicide bombers are in the building," Col. Abdul Zahir, a member of the Kabul police's criminal investigative division, told the Times. "They're shooting at the embassy. We're still in fighting position. We can't say anything."

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the U.S. embassy, NATO headquarters and the presidential palace were targeted.

"They are under the fire of our heavy and small arms," he told the Post in a telephone interview.

Kabul residents said several rockets struck Wazir Akbar Khan, an upscale neighborhood where some embassies and non-governmental organizations are based.

Hamid M. Khan, a rule of law adviser with the U.S. Institute of Peace said he and colleagues were in a safe room in their compound.

"The entire staff is hunkered down," he said via his smartphone. "We're very tense and alarmed by how close the rocket attacks and gunshots keep coming."

A journalist with the Afghan Tolo News channel said via Twitter a rocket struck the network's building. A BBC correspondent posted on Twitter he heard rockets landing near his location.

The attack occurred less than two months after Afghan forces assumed responsibility for security in the capital.


Families raising bail to free U.S. hikers

TEHRAN, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Parents of two U.S. hikers held in a Tehran prison are working to raise bail to secure their children's release soon, the hikers' attorney said Tuesday.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer will be released from Tehran's Evin prison after the $500,000 bail is paid for each of them, attorney Masoud Shafiee told CNN.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told several U.S. media outlets the two men would be released "in a couple of days" for humanitarian reasons.

Fattal and Bauer have been in Evin Prison for more than two years after they and a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, were arrested July 31, 2009, while hiking in northern Iraq. The three said they unintentionally strayed across an unmarked border into Iran, where they were arrested and charged with espionage and entering the country illegally.

Shourd, who is Bauer's fiancee, was released last year on $500,000 bail for medical reasons, although authorities said her case is open.

Fattal and Bauer in August were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for espionage and illegal entry.

"They illegally crossed our borders and they were arrested by the border guards," Ahmadinejad told NBC in an interview that aired Tuesday. "We tried last year to free one of the three persons and we are also trying to make arrangements for the freedom of the other two. I think these two persons will be freed in a couple of days."

The hikers' families were "hopeful" about the possible release, a family spokeswoman said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "We are aware of these reports, and we are working through the Swiss Protecting Power to get more details from the Iranian authorities."

Since United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, the Swiss represent U.S. interests in Tehran.

Senior State Department officials said U.S. officials reacted with caution to the news because Iran had made similar claims previously, CNN said.

In the NBC interview, Ahmadinejad indicated the situation was bigger than Bauer and Fattal, extending to the "approach of the American politicians and leaders" toward Iran.

"OK, these two persons will be released," he said. "Is it going to be over? We do it, for example, in [a] humanitarian gesture. Is it going to solve the problems? I hope so."

The president's decisions are subject to review by clerical authorities in Iran, but Ahmadinejad called his intention a "unilateral pardon" of the hikers, The Washington Post reported.

Bauer and Fattal are "free to choose" how they return to the United States, Ahmadinejad told the Post.


U.S. slashing aid to Afghan military

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. assistance to the Afghan army and police will be cut by more than half before the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014, the Pentagon said.

The move means Afghanistan will have to settle for a no-frills security force to battle the Taliban-led insurgency after American troops pull out, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

In actual dollars, the reductions will shrink annual U.S. expenditures for Afghan security forces from nearly $13 billion to well below $6 billion over three years.

Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, the deputy commander of the U.S.-led command, said the reduced assistance would still provide what a good Afghan force needs.

"We realized we were starting to build an army based on Western army standards, and we realized they don't need that capability," he said.

Among the "extras" that won't be funded are such things as air conditioning and car radios.


Report details human rights abuses

LONDON, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- A major report on human rights violations during the Libyan conflict accuses the National Transitional Council of abuses as well as pro-Gadhafi forces.

The 107-page report released by London-based Amnesty International found evidence that during the fighting to overthrow Col. Moammar Gadhafi forces loyal to the NTC also committed abuses that in some cases amounted to war crimes.

The report said those abuses included brutal "settling of scores" such as the lynching of Gadhafi's soldiers after their capture. The killing of prisoners by any party in a conflict is considered a war crime.

As for pro-Gadhafi forces, the report said they conducted indiscriminate attacks, mass killing of prisoners, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.

"The onus now is on the NTC to do things differently, end abuses and initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed," said Claudio Cordone, senior director for Amnesty International.

Cordone said a top priority should be to ensure due process and deliver access to justice and reparation for victims.

"The new authorities must make a complete break with the abuses of the past four decades and set new standards by putting human rights at the center of the agenda," he said.


7 die, 100 injured in train-bus collision

BEUNOS AIRES, Argentina, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Seven people died and at least 100 were injured Tuesday morning when two trains and a bus collided in Buenos Aires, Argentine police said.

"There are seven confirmed deaths. There are people in hospital now in very grave state, including children. They have severe injuries," said Fernando Sostre, a spokesman for the Argentine Federal Police.

The crash occurred at 6:15 a.m. local time in the Flores district of Buenos Aires, CNN reported.

Argentine television showed dozens of police, fire and rescue workers going through the wreckage as ambulances took the injured to hospitals.

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