KABUL: A Taliban gunman and four suicide bombers stormed a Kabul guest house used by a US-based aid group and held four foreigners hostage for several hours yesterday, eight days before Afghanistan holds a presidential election the militants have vowed to derail.
Kabul is on high alert and people across the country are on edge ahead of the April 5 vote the hardline Islamist movement denounces as a Western-backed sham. The siege of the walled compound, also home to a small church, lasted several hours before security forces killed the last remaining gunman holed up inside.
At least one Afghan girl was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the building and insurgents forced their way in. There were no casualties among foreigners. A witness saw about 20 people being evacuated from the guest house in an upmarket residential area, many looking frightened and shocked.
“The fight is over. The five attackers are dead,” Qadam Shah Shaheem, Commander of 111 Military Corps Kabul, said.
“One detonated his car loaded with explosives, three detonated explosives attached to their bodies inside the building, and one was shot by forces. All four foreigners are alive and safe.”
The country manager of an organisation using the guest house said four people had been held hostage by the Taliban as their colleagues made frantic phone calls to establish if they were alive.
“I can confirm it was attacked and that there are only four people (inside),” said Hajji Mohammad Sharif Osmani, Country Manager of Roots of Peace, a US-based group involved in demining and other projects in Afghanistan. “The rest of the guys are outside.”
The attack was a chilling reminder to voters and foreigners of the kind of assault the Taliban are capable of mounting in the heavily guarded capital after their leaders ordered fighters to disrupt the election. Violence has spiralled in recent weeks with almost daily explosions and gunfights around the country.
Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked an election commission office in Kabul on Tuesday, and last week, nine people, including an AFP journalist, his wife and a son and an election observer, were killed in an attack on a highly fortified hotel in the capital. The Taliban claimed responsibility for yesterday’s assault, saying the target was a foreign guest house and a church.
The country of 30 million is holding the election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who is barred by the constitution from running for another term in office.