Kabul: Gunfire and explosions rang out today in a diplomatic district of Kabul as security forces battled militants who tried to storm a guesthouse owned by a prominent political family, police said, in the latest attack in the Afghan capital.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as the Taliban intensify their annual spring offensive despite Kabul's repeated overtures to reopen peace talks. Sporadic blasts could still be heard hours after the assault began late yesterday in the upmarket neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, home to foreign embassies and diplomatic enclaves which are a prime target for attacks.
"We have surrounded the area and cornered them," Kabul police spokesman Ebadullah Karimi said, adding that no casualties have been reported. "The attackers wanted to get into Heetal Hotel but failed. They have now taken position among the trees behind the hotel and are firing at security forces."
The manager of the Heetal Hotel, owned by the family of Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and known for housing foreigners, said all guests were in safe rooms and no one was hurt. "Heetal is very well fortified. After one or two initial explosions, our guards started firing on attackers who were unable to get inside," manager Beizhan told AFP by telephone from inside the guesthouse.
"Gunshots and blasts can still be heard from a distance," he added, without specifying if there were any foreign guests inside. The guest house was damaged in 2009 when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the gate, killing eight people and wounding another 40. Today's attack began around 11:00 pm (1830 GMT).
An AFP reporter near the scene heard the loud crackle of gunfire and more than a dozen explosions from the area. The Taliban, waging a 13-year war against the US-backed Afghan government, earlier yesterday killed 26 Afghan police in multiple attacks in the volatile south. The militants have launched a series of attacks in the capital and around the country as NATO forces have pulled back from the frontlines.
A blast triggered by a Taliban car bomber ripped through the parking lot of the justice ministry in Kabul on May 19, killing four people and wounding dozens of others. Also this month 14 people -- mostly foreigners -- were killed in a Taliban attack on a guesthouse in the capital that trapped dozens attending a concert.