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Militants attack governor's office in southern Afghanistan

By David Ariosto, CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: BBC News director calls slain journalist "courageous"
  • NATO and Afghan forces sweep the area for remaining gunmen
  • 19 people were killed and 37 wounded, officials say
  • 10 children were among those killed, authorities say
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Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The governor of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province narrowly escaped an insurgent attack Thursday, and NATO and Afghan security forces continue to sweep the area in an effort to root out militants who penetrated his compound, officials said.

Muhammad Omar Shirzad had been holed up inside the building as a gun battle raged in and around the compound, according to Abdul Rahman, the governor's spokesman.

Gunfire and explosions could be heard over the phone as Rahman spoke with CNN.

By late afternoon, Afghan and NATO forces managed to clear militants from the immediate vicinity of the governor's office, according to Siddiq Siddiqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

Rahman is currently being treated for injuries at a local hospital after a grenade exploded near him.

Taliban claims high-profile killings

While sporadic gunfire continues near the compound, Rahman said, the governor was not harmed.

The attack occurred earlier Thursday when militants -- wielding guns and strapped with explosive devices -- stormed the compound, a television-radio station and a police base in the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt, officials said.

A least 19 people were killed and 37 wounded,including three police officers, said Khan Aga Miakhail, head of Uruzgan's regional department of health.

Ten children were among the dead, he added.

Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak, a freelance journalist working for an Afghan news agency and other international news organizations, was also killed during the battle, according to Pajhwok News Agency spokesman Danish Karookhail.

"Moments after the fighting began, Khpalwak sent his brother Javed a text-message, asking family members to pray for his safety. Soon afterwards, hospital authorities informed Javed of his brother's death," the agency reported.

The 25 year-old reporter, who also worked for BBC News, was shot by unknown gunmen inside the district's local television station, it added.

"The sympathies of the BBC and all of his colleagues go out to (Ahmad Omaid's) family and friends," said Peter Horrocks, director of BBC Global News. "The BBC and the whole world are grateful to journalists like (Ahmad Omaid) who courageously put their lives on the line to report from dangerous places."

Khpalwak is the third journalist the Pajhwok News Agency has lost to attacks in the last three years.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the strike, saying six insurgents penetrated the governor's headquarters and engaged in a firefight with government forces, according to Taliban spokesman Qari Ahmad Yousofi.

Three separate explosions were heard from inside the governor's building, according to Mohammad Ullah, a provincial council member.

Afghan security forces were "heavily engaged" with the militants, Ullah added, and asked NATO forces to join the fight.

At least one ISAF helicopter entered the battle, firing on militants, said Anan Ullah Azimi, a provincial parliament member currently in Tarin Kowt.

A NATO spokesman confirmed Azimi's account.

The strike comes one day after the mayor of neighboring Kandahar City, Ghulam Haidar Hamidi, was assassinated in a suicide attack.

His death marked the latest in a series of high-profile assassinations in recent weeks that have left key allies of President Hamid Karzai's government dead.

The most high-profile strike occurred earlier this month, when the Taliban claimed responsibility for the death of the president's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.

The Kandahar provincial council chief was considered an influential power-broker and key presidential ally in the country's restive southern provinces. He was killed by a longtime bodyguard.

CNN's Fazel Reshad and Matiullah Mati contributed to this report

 
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