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Cheney escapes suicide raid

Muscat (Oman), Feb. 27 (Reuters): US Vice-President Dick Cheney was whisked into a bomb shelter immediately after a Taliban suicide bomber struck the main American military base he was visiting in Afghanistan today.

Up to 14 people were killed, including one US and one South Korean soldier, in the Bagram air base attack which rebels said was aimed at Cheney.

He had been in his room at the base where he had unexpectedly had to stay the night after bad weather forced postponement of his trip to the capital, Kabul, about 60 km away. “At 10 am I heard a loud boom,” Cheney said.

Base authorities sounded a red alert and secret service officials told Cheney there had been a suspected suicide attack. “They moved me for a relatively brief period of time to one of the bomb shelters nearby,” he said. “As the situation settled down and they got a better sense in terms of what was going on, then I went back to my room until it was time to leave.”

Nato’s death toll in the attack was four, officials said. A Reuters photographer at the scene saw an additional 10 bodies, putting the total at 14.

A US government contractor, whose nationality was unknown, was among those killed and 27 people were wounded, Nato said. “We wanted to target ... Cheney,” Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan said by phone from an undisclosed location.

Soon after the blast, Cheney — who officials say was never in danger from the blast at the sprawling base — went ahead with talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital. Asked if he had ever considered changing his plans to go to Kabul, Cheney said that was “never an option”.

The meeting had been scheduled for yesterday, but was delayed when Cheney was snowed in at Bagram soon after arriving from Islamabad on a visit shrouded in secrecy because of security.

“They clearly try to find ways to question the authority of the central government,” Cheney told reporters travelling with him out of Afghanistan on a military plane to Oman. “Striking at Bagram with a suicide bomber I suppose is one way to do that.” Cheney was due to depart Muscat later for Washington.

His Afghan visit came as Washington said al Qaida and its Taliban allies were regrouping on Pakistan and Afghan soil.

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