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Big suicide bomb plot allegedly involving Afghan soldiers uncovered in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan authorities arrested as many as 18 people, including more than a dozen soldiers, after thwarting a major suicide bomb attack in Kabul on Monday, according to Afghan intelligence officials cited Tuesday by local and international media.

Afghanistan’s Khaama Press quoted officials as saying that 11 suicide vests had been seized at buildings inside the Ministry of Defense compound, which is located in a high-security area of Kabul near the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition and the presidential palace.

The BBC said that six Afghan National Army soldiers were arrested at the Defence Ministry. The British broadcaster said vests apparently were intended to be used in an attack on buses used to transport ministry personnel to and from work.

The Defense Ministry dismissed the reports as “absolutely untrue,” but other news sources reported that the ministry was locked down on Tuesday because of the plot.

“We completely reject the claim that explosive vests were seized within the ministry of defense,” the ministry’s deputy spokesman, Dawlat Waziri, told McClatchy. “We also reject the claim that any ANA soldiers were arrested. Such an incident has not happened, neither yesterday nor today.”

An official at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the name of the U.S.-led coalition, told McClatchy that ISAF had asked the defense ministry about the reported bomb plot. The ministry had denied the reports, said the ISAF official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The reported bomb plot and arrests revived fears that Kabul may face a fresh wave of insurgent attacks like those that struck the capital last year. Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, the British Council offices, and the U.S. embassy were among the high-profile buildings targeted in those attacks.

The plot will also renew concern in the U.S.-led coalition about the reliability of Afghan security forces, who will take over responsibility for the Afghanistan’s security when coalition combat troops leave by the end of 2014.

Earlier this year, two American soldiers were shot dead inside Afghanistan's Interior Ministry. Last April, a gunman killed at least two Afghan soldiers inside the Defense Ministry as it was being visited by the French defense minister.

(Stephenson is a McClatchy special correspondent.)