4 Indians, American killed in Kabul guesthouse siege

Kabul: Four Indians and an American were among those killed when Taliban gunmen stormed a guesthouse in the Afghan capital thinking that the Indian Ambassador was inside the complex popular among foreign nationals as the attack ended after hours-long siege.

The attack started at about 0900 PM last night when three gunmen launched a brazen assault at the Park Palace Guesthouse, located in the Kolola Pushta area of the Kabul city.

Soon after the gunmen stormed the guest house, Afghan National Security Forces including Special Forces arrived and began striking back the attackers and also rescuing those under siege inside the guest house. "Four Indians have been killed in the attack," officials sources told PTI.

There was no clarity over the overall death toll apart from the confirmation that four Indians and an American were among the dead. At least six people were also wounded in the attack. President Ashraf Ghani's special envoy for good governance Ahmad Zia Massoud visited the attack scene in Kabul.

The militants attacked the guesthouse thinking the (Indian) Ambassador (Amar Sinha) was present in the compound, Massoud was quoted as saying by Khaama Press. Massoud said the assault was likely a political attack but he did not elaborate further, according to the report.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the siege at the guesthouse which was about to host a musical concert. "The attack was planned carefully to target the party in which important people and Americans were attending," the militants said in a statement.

When the attack took place, the musical event was due to begin and was to be attended by the Turkish and Indian guests as well Afghan nationals, an Afghan Security official was quoted as saying.

Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said security forces rescued 54 people from inside the guesthouse. All three attackers were killed in the siege that lasted for about seven hours, ending in the wee hours of this morning.

"Unfortunately a few Indian casualties among others at the Kabul g/house attack today," Indian Ambassador Sinha had earlier tweeted but official sources later confirmed that four Indians were among the dead. United States Embassy in Kabul confirmed the death of one of American national in the attack.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, currently on a three-day visit to China, tweeted last night, "In the aircraft I got news about the attack in Kabul. Am concerned about the situation & I pray for everyone's safety." Kolola Pushta is home to several international guest houses and hotels and is near the Afghan interior ministry.

Today's brazen assault was reminiscent of two attacks last year on a hotel and a restaurant in which 30 were killed. Earlier today, gunmen opened fire at a meeting of Muslim clerics in Helmand, killing at least seven people. The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001, have stepped up attacks since they announced their "spring offensive" last month.

The attacks come a day after a visit to Kabul by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who assured Afghanistan of Islamabad's full support in its fight against the Taliban. Afghanistan has experienced a rise in the Taliban attacks as foreign troops plan to withdraw from the war-torn country by the end of the year.

In May last year, the Indian consulate in Herat in western Afghanistan was attacked by four heavily-armed gunmen, who were subsequently killed in an encounter. In August 2013, a failed bombing against the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad city near the border with Pakistan killed nine people, including six children. No Indian officials were hurt.

The Indian Embassy in Kabul was attacked twice in 2008 and 2009 that left 75 people dead. Apart from Salma dam project, India has invested in some major infrastructure projects including the Afghan parliament building in Kabul.

India's development assistance programme for Afghanistan currently stands at USD two billion, making it the leading donor nation among all regional countries.

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