IMAGE: Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak
Ahmad Masood  /  Reuters
Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak, center, attends a ceremony in Kabul Friday marking the fourth anniversary of the assassination of guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Masood.
updated 9/12/2005 2:11:40 PM ET 2005-09-12T18:11:40

Gunmen opened fire near the Afghan defense minister as he prepared to board a helicopter at Kabul’s main airport Saturday. No one was wounded and it was not clear whether the shots were an attempt on his life, officials said.

The shots went over the top of Defense Minister Rahim Wardak’s convoy, which was parked at the airport while the minister boarded the nearby helicopter, a senior government official said.

He said the shots were not fired directly at the minister and that the gunmen were Afghan army soldiers angered by a pay dispute.

Another official said some people had been arrested, but declined to identify them or say why they had opened fire.

Both officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter.

Wardak boarded the helicopter after the shooting and flew to Panjshir Valley for a memorial in honor of Ahmed Shah Masood, the former head of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance who was killed by two suspected al-Qaida assassins on Sept. 9. 2001.

30 suspected militants killed
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, Afghan and U.S.-led forces killed 30 suspected militants and arrested at least 60 others during an offensive in a southern province, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Saturday.

The fighting took place Friday in the Grishk district of the southern Helmand province, spokesman Gen. Mohammed Saher Azimi said. He said "a large number" of suspected militants were arrested and that 60 of them had been identified.

Afghan soldiers were collecting weapons in the area, including some that were lying in farm fields.

"We have seized lots of ammunition and weapons," Azimi said.

The offensive is the latest large-scale operation against Taliban rebels in volatile southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Fighting in the past six months has left more than 1,200 people dead and has raised security fears for landmark parliamentary elections in a week.

Helicopter crash
After Masood's memorial, another helicopter carrying the country’s army chief, Bismillah Khan, and a Cabinet minister, crashed shortly after takeoff and exploded in flames. All those on board managed to escape the burning wreckage.

The pilot and Sediqa Balkhi, the minister for the disabled, were slightly injured, according to an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the crash.

Presidential spokesman Khaleeq Ahmed said the crash occurred because the chopper’s rotor blades clipped a tree during takeoff.

Wardak’s helicopter returned to Kabul without incident.

The shooting and crash come a week before landmark legislative elections that Taliban rebels have vowed to subvert. The militants have stepped up attacks across much of the country, leaving more than 1,200 people dead in the past six months.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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