SHAFAQNA – Gunmen stormed a guesthouse in the Afghan capital as it hosted a party for foreigners Wednesday night, and the U.S. Embassy said one American was killed. A witness said as many as several dozen people were believed held captive.
Details about exactly how many people were held at Kabul’s Park Palace Hotel remained unclear into the night, as sporadic gunfire echoed around the guesthouse in a central neighborhood home to United Nations compounds and a foreign-run hospital. Two explosions later could be heard and four ambulances later arrived to the scene.
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, but firefighters had not yet gone in.
The local police chief was expected to address reporters shortly with details of the siege and casualties.
The U.S. Embassy said in an email statement issued Wednesday that a U.S. citizen was killed in the attack, although it did not provide further details or identify the victim.
Amin Habi, a U.S. citizen from Los Angeles, told The Associated Press that a party was going on at the hotel to honor a Canadian when the gunmen stormed the guesthouse. He said as many as 40 people, including foreigners and U.S. citizens, could still be inside the hotel.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Caitlin Workman said that they were aware of reports of the shooting and hostage taking. She said, “All staff at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul are safe and accounted for.”
Amar Sinha, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said he believed at least six people still held inside were Indian citizens. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account said he was “concerned about the situation (and) I pray for everyone’s safety.”
Police officers earlier freed some 20 people trapped in the guesthouse, but others remained inside, said Zia Massoud, an Afghan government official. He said at least one of those people was wounded.
The hotel has both guest rooms for visitors and a residential area for those who live full time in Kabul, including foreign aid workers.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Taliban have attacked guesthouses before in Kabul.
Earlier Wednesday, gunmen killed 12 people and wounded 12 in an attack on a government compound in the city of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, authorities said.
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.