Fourteen people including at least six foreigners were killed in a Taliban attack on a Kabul guesthouse that trapped dozens attending a concert and triggered an hours-long standoff with Afghan forces, officials said Thursday.
Four Indians, an American and an Italian were among those killed in the overnight siege on the Park Palace.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the seven-hour assault, which triggered explosions and bursts of gunfire. It came as Afghan forces face their first fighting season against the insurgents.
“An attack against civilians gathered for a cultural event in the Park Palace hotel in Kabul killed 14 civilians and injured several others,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement.
“Fifty-four people were rescued by security forces,” Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi added after a large number of armed personnel swooped on the guesthouse, located in an up-market district and popular with international aid agency workers.
The Taliban, which has stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets, said in a statement that the attack was carried out by a single gunman and “planned carefully to target the party in which important people and Americans were attending”.
The attack was also claimed by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network that is believed to be based out of the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
“One of our suicide squads carried out the raid. We prepared for it for two months and will continue to carry out these attacks,” a senior Haqqani commander in charge of suicide operations told AFP by telephone. Afghan police gave conflicting accounts of how many gunmen were involved.
“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 assault came as NATO on Wednesday formally announced plans to retain a small military presence in Afghanistan after 2016 to help strengthen local security forces.
The attack also comes a day after a visit to Kabul by Pakistani 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 harbouring and nurturing Taliban insurgents.
Taliban insurgents, who have waged a 13-year war to topple the US-backed government, launched their spring offensive across Afghanistan late last month.