Taliban fighters wearing Afghan army uniforms stormed a provincial courthouse in western Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 90 in a complex attack that began with the explosion of a truck bomb followed by an assault in which the attackers took hostages and kicked off a gun battle with Afghan security forces that lasted until late afternoon.
The death toll made it one of the worst attacks of the 11-year-old war. At least 34 civilians, six Afghan soldiers and four police officers were killed. All nine Taliban attackers also died.
No American or international troops were involved in the fighting. Afghan forces assumed responsibility for security in Farah, the province where the battle took place, in December.
The fighting began about 9 a.m. in the middle of a cluster of buildings in Farah city that included a bank and the compound of the provincial governor, said Najibfullah Danish, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. He said that it appeared more than one building was attacked.
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The gun battle continued for several hours before Afghan security forces were able to seize the courthouse, in the process killing the last of the militants.
The wounded, Danish said, included a large number of civilians.
Among them were judges, the provincial governor’s spokesman, Abdur Rahman Zhwandai, told the Pajhwok Afghan News website.
Danish said that he couldn’t confirm reports that the attack was aimed at freeing Taliban prisoners said to be inside the courthouse when that assault began.
Government officials said none of the prisoners escaped. A Taliban spokesman told the Reuters news agency that there were 10 and all had managed to flee. Taliban statements are often unreliable.
The western reaches of Afghanistan have generally been more peaceful than the country’s south and east, but Farah, which is on the border with Iran, saw a sharp uptick in violence last year, even before the transition there from NATO to Afghan security forces began in December. Among the first of the districts shifted to Afghan control was the one where the attack occurred.
The governor’s compound was the target of a similar assault in May 2012. In that attack, the assailants dressed as police officers. They killed at least seven people before they were shot. A suicide bomber attacked the compound in July, and the province was the scene throughout the year of regular attacks on police checkpoints and other small targets. The independent Afghan Analysts Network called 2012 “a veritable annus horribilis” for the province.
That violence continued this year, including the assassination in January of a district police chief and a lengthy, pitched attack on a district governor’s compound.
Video: At Least 44 Dead as Taliban Attack Afghan Courthouse