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Militant attack kills 5 in heart of Kabul

  • Five people killed; two insurgents dead at shopping center, NATO-led forces say
  • Taliban insurgents enter presidential palace, ministry buildings, government says
  • Karzai Cabinet members were to be sworn in, Parliament member says

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- An attack in which the Taliban claimed to have infiltrated key government sites in downtown Kabul killed at least five people Monday morning, hospital and government officials said.

Among the five were two policemen and one national security staff member, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said at a news conference. Seventy-one others were injured, 36 of whom were police or security officers, he said.

His report of the death toll conflicts with those of Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi, who said 13 died, and the Taliban, which claimed even more were slain.

Seven attackers' bodies were recovered, with two or three of them burned beyond recognition, Azimi said. The Taliban said only five were killed.

Four explosions and gunfire shook downtown Kabul about 9:15 a.m. Monday, with the Taliban saying it was conducting a militant operation.

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  • Afghanistan
  • The Taliban
  • NATO
  • Kabul

The attack started as 14 members of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's Cabinet were to be sworn in, said Parliament member Fawzia Koofi.

About 20 Taliban insurgents entered the presidential palace; the ministries of Finance, Mines and Justice; and the Serena Hotel, said spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

NATO-led forces said "several small explosions" and gunfire were reported near the Feroshgah e Afghan Shopping Center and the Serena Hotel, and later added that "numerous" suicide bombers had attacked government buildings close to the presidential palace and the Ministry of Justice.

Atmar said that the coordinated attacks struck the city over a span of two hours and 45 minutes and that they targeted civilians.

And the threat continued at 1 p.m., when three attackers took over Bayman Hotel, Atmar said. More than two hours later, Afghan security forces killed the men, he said.

At least two insurgents were killed at the shopping center, NATO-led forces said in a news release, which also said that Afghan national police had secured all roads in the area.

A separate news release condemned the attack, which NATO-led forces said took place amid many civilians. Atmar, the Minister of Defense and chief of the National Security Department also condemned the violence.

The Taliban claimed that they killed 31 officials and injured 31 people. Their account could not be immediately independently verified.

The terrorist group also disputed the government on the number of its militants killed. Five militants had died and 13 had returned to their safe houses, the Taliban's Mujahid said, adding that two were still fighting.

But Zmaray Bashari, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said security forces had restored Kabul to normalcy by Monday afternoon.

Monday's assault followed weekend violence that killed at least three international troops and 14 militants in Afghanistan, authorities said.

CNN's Dan Rivers and Atia Abawi contributed to this report.