KABUL: An American was among five people killed when gunmen stormed a downtown Kabul guesthouse, trapping several foreigners and triggering an hours-long overnight standoff with Afghan security forces, officials said Thursday.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the siege on the Park Palace guesthouse, but it comes as the Taliban — who have previously attacked such properties frequented by foreigners — press their annual spring offensive.
The attack, which lasted around seven hours and triggered explosions and sporadic bursts of gunfire, comes as Afghan forces face their first fighting season against the insurgents without the full support of US-led foreign combat troops.
“Five people were killed including foreigners and Afghans in the attack on Park Palace guesthouse,” Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi told reporters, adding that at least five others were wounded.
He did not offer a breakdown of the nationalities of those killed but the US embassy in Kabul confirmed one American fatality and the Indian ambassador tweeted that there were “a few Indian casualties” without specifying if they were wounded or had been killed.
“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims at this time. Out of respect for the families of those killed, we have no further information at this time,” embassy spokeswoman Monica Cummings told AFP.
Kabul deputy police chief Sayed Gul Agha Rohani said the siege ended when Afghan security forces killed three assailants but Rahimi gave a conflicting number on the number of attackers.
“So far we have identified one attacker, but we are looking to see if there were more. We are trying to find out the circumstances in which the attack took place. We need more investigation,” Rahimi said, adding that 54 people were rescued by security forces.
The Park Palace was due to host a concert by well-known Afghan classical singer Altaf Hussain, with several VIPs invited, when the gunfire started, a guesthouse employee told AFP.
The employee, who did not wish to be named, said he barricaded himself in a room in the building when the shootout began and heard several people screaming in the corridors as gunshots rang out.
The employee later managed to flee the Park Palace and said he saw at least five blood-covered bodies lying near the entrance.Roads leading up to the Park Palace, frequented by foreigners and international aid agency workers, were blocked by a large number of security personnel who arrived after the attack, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
– Heavy gunfire –
Kabul police chief Rahimi, who was at the scene of the ongoing attack, had earlier said security forces faced heavy gunfire from the assailants.
The attack comes a day after a visit to Kabul by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who assured Afghanistan of Islamabad’s full support in its battle against the Taliban, saying “the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be the friends of Pakistan”.
His unusually strong remarks are the latest sign of a thaw in the once-frosty relationship between the two countries. Afghan officials have frequently accused longtime nemesis Pakistan of harboring and nurturing Taliban insurgents.
But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has actively courted Pakistan since coming to power in what observers say is a calculated gambit to pressure the insurgents to the negotiating table.
The Taliban has been behind previous attacks on compounds and guesthouses occupied or frequented by foreigners, including at least two separate assaults in Kabul last November.
Militants also launched a major attack on a compound of the International Organization for Migration in 2013.
Along with guesthouses and compounds, the range of targets hit last year in Kabul included the Afghan capital’s most prestigious hotel and a restaurant popular with Western diplomats.
Taliban insurgents, who have waged a 13-year war to topple the US-backed Afghan government, launched their spring offensive across Afghanistan late last month, stepping up attacks on government and foreign targets.
This year marks the first fighting season in which Afghan forces are battling the insurgents without the full support of US-led foreign combat troops.