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Deadly attack at Afghan courthouse

KABUL -- Insurgents wearing Afghan army uniforms stormed a courthouse yesterday in a suicide attack that failed to free Taliban inmates, killing 44 people, half of them shot in the basement. The nine attackers were killed.

The attack, one of the deadliest in the more than 11-year-old war, began about 8:30 a.m. when nine men wearing suicide vests drove into the capital of Farah province in western Afghanistan, evading checkpoints by using army vehicles, according to the provincial police chief. The standoff ended some eight hours later when the last gunman was killed.

Insurgents have stepped up assaults targeting the Farah provincial government as they vie for control of an area bordering Iran to the west and Helmand province to the east. Farah has become increasingly volatile as the site of a growing drug trade after military offensives in neighboring areas.

"The Taliban seem to be exploiting the opium harvest and the unpopular eradication efforts by the government to further establish their presence," Fabrizio Foschini, of the independent research group Afghan Analysts Network, said in a recent blog.

Militants have staged high-profile complex attacks across Afghanistan in a bid to show their strength and undermine confidence in the central government.

Yesterday's assault was among the most brutal for civilians, raising fears of deteriorating security as international combat forces withdraw by the end of 2014 and hand over control to Afghan security forces.

In Kabul, meanwhile, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Asadullah Khalid, returned yesterday, nearly four months after he was seriously wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber posing as a messenger of peace.

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