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American among five dead in Kabul guesthouse siege

Update: May, 14/2015 - 14:46

KABUL — An American was among five people killed when gunmen stormed a downtown Kabul guesthouse, trapping dozens of people attending a concert and triggering an hours-long stand-off with Afghan security forces, officials said on Thursday.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the overnight siege on the Park Palace, but it comes as the Taliban, who have waged many attacks on locations frequented by foreigners, press their annual spring offensive.

The assault, 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.

"Fifty-four people were rescued by security forces," he added after a large number of armed personnel swooped on the guesthouse, which is located in an up-market district and popular with international aid agency workers.

Rahimi did not give a breakdown of the nationalities of those killed but the US embassy 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," said US embassy spokeswoman Monica Cummings.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said earlier in a tweet that he was "concerned about the situation &I pray for safety."

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.

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, said a guesthouse employee.

The employee, who did not wish to be named, said he barricaded himself in a room in the building when the shutout began and heard several people screaming in the corridors as gunshots rang out.

The employee later managed to flee the guesthouse and said he saw at least five blood-covered bodies lying near the entrance.

Rahimi, who was at the scene of the ongoing attack, had earlier said security forces faced heavy gunfire from the assailants. — AFP

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