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Blasts, raid on government building kill at least 24 in Baghdad

Karim Kadim / AP

Black smoke from a car bomb rises in central Baghdad on Thursday.

BAGHDAD -- A string of explosions tore through central Baghdad within minutes of each other on Thursday, followed by a coordinated assault by gunmen who raided a government building and battled security forces in the streets. The attack left at least 24 people dead and dozens wounded.

The fighting lasted about an hour, ending with security forces storming the building, killing the gunmen and evacuating hundreds of people who had hunkered down in their offices, according to police.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda's Iraqi arm. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently uses car bombs and coordinated blasts in an effort to undermine Iraqis' confidence in the Shiite-led government.

Coordinated blasts in Baghdad killed at least 24 people near the heavily fortified Green Zone. NBCNews.com's Richard Lui reports.

The attack erupted shortly after midday in Baghdad's Allawi area, a largely commercial district that is home to the Iraqi National Museum and the city's main bus station.

At least two blasts, including one car bomb and another believed to be from a suicide bomber, went off near a building currently housing the Justice Ministry. A police officer who was among the troops sent to clear the area said that approximately six gunmen wearing police uniforms quickly stormed the building.

"Everybody panicked (after the first blast) and seconds later we heard a second explosion. I looked through the window and I saw some gunmen wearing police uniforms entering the building. We knew that these policemen were fake," said Asmaa Abbas, a Justice Ministry employee who was working in her third-floor office.

A gunbattle quickly broke out between the intruders and security forces, as other explosions went off near the bus station and the headquarters for a VIP protection force that provides bodyguards for lawmakers, government ministers and other senior officials.

'The longest hour of my life'
After about an hour, security forces stormed the building and some of the gunmen detonated explosives they were wearing, the officer on the scene said.

"It was the longest hour in my life," said Abbas, the employee.

Saad Shalash / Reuters

An Iraqi Red Crescent ambulance transports people injured in one of Thursday's attacks in central Baghdad.

Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said there were more than 1,000 people in the four-story building at the time of the attack. He said the minister was abroad and was not inside.

"When the explosions and shooting started, the guards evacuated me out a back door, and I have no idea what happened after that," he said, speaking over the telephone from outside the building.

The attack killed 24 people in addition to the gunmen and wounded 57 others, police said. The dead include seven police officers.

Hospital officials confirmed the casualty numbers. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Violence in Iraq has subsided from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but deadly attacks remain frequent almost a decade after the U.S.-led invasion.

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