KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban on Thursday claimed responsibility for an attack the previous night on a Kabul guesthouse that killed at least five people, including an American and four Indians in one of the most audacious assaults by the insurgents in the Afghan capital since the start of their spring offensive.
By midmorning Thursday, it appeared the death toll may be higher as India’s ambassador to Afghanistan told The Associated Press that at least seven foreign nationals were among the dead, though he had no further details and Afghan officials could not immediately be reached for new information.
Gunmen stormed the restaurant of the Park Palace Hotel in the Afghan capital as it was hosting a party for foreigners on Wednesday evening, and authorities said the victims were killed during an hours-long siege that ended early Thursday morning. At least six people were wounded and 54 hostages rescued, according to Afghan officials.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in an email distributed to media said the group had targeted the hotel because of the presence of foreigners, including Americans there.
In the claim, he said only one attacker was involved, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, a suicide vest and a pistol – not three as the Afghan government reported. The Taliban often exaggerate their claims.
The Afghan police kept the hotel cordoned off on Thursday. Earlier, they said all the attackers were killed in the shootout with security troops.
The attack began around 8:30 p.m. local time when the gunmen opened fire at the hotel restaurant, according to Kabul police chief Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahimi. He had no breakdown on the nationalities of the victims, but U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Monica Cummings said in an email statement that a U.S. citizen was killed in the attack, although she had no further details and did not identify the victim.
Cummings said the U.S. Embassy was in close contact with Afghan authorities and was working to obtain more information. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims,” she said.
India’s Ambassador Amar Sinha confirmed Thursday that four Indian nationals were also among the dead – three men and a woman. He said they were among a total of 11 Indians resident at the guesthouse, none of whom are embassy personnel.
Throughout the standoff, sporadic gunfire echoed around the guesthouse in a central neighborhood that is home to United Nations compounds and a foreign-run hospital. At one point, two explosions could be heard and four ambulances later arrived to the scene.
Amin Habib, a U.S. citizen from Los Angeles, told the AP that a party was going on at the hotel to honor a Canadian when the gunmen stormed the guesthouse. He said dozens of people, including foreigners and U.S. citizens, were inside the hotel at the time.
Also earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account said he was “concerned about the situation (and) I pray for everyone’s safety.”
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Caitlin Workman said all staff at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul were “safe and accounted for.”
Hours after the standoff began, fire trucks arrived at the scene, with firefighters saying they were called in to clear and secure the area. A number of people were seen leaving the building. Police initially freed some 20 people trapped in the guesthouse, but others had remained inside, according to Zia Massoud, an Afghan government official.
The hotel has both guest rooms for visitors and a residential area for those who live full time in Kabul, including foreign aid workers.
Afghan security forces have been struggling to fend off Taliban attacks since U.S. and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of last year.