Kabul Attack Kills American And At Least A Dozen Others & The Taliban Has Claimed Responsibility

A senior Afghan government official has said that a Taliban raid on a Kabul guesthouse on Wednesday left at least 14 people dead. The attack, whose victims included nine foreign nationals, comes at the beginning of the Taliban’s “spring offensive." The insurgent group announced the beginning of its annual offensive in April, and the Wednesday assault is this season’s most audacious yet, The New York Times reports.

Shortly after 8pm Wednesday, three men armed with AK-47 rifles infiltrated Park Palace guesthouse in Kabul’s Kolola Pushta neighborhood. At the time, the venue was hosting a party for foreigners, according to The Guardian. Once in place, the armed men engaged in standoff with national security forces that lasted for hours, through early Thursday morning.

Out of the nine foreigners who were killed, seven were male and two were female, the unnamed official said — speaking to the Times on the condition of anonymity, because he wasn’t authorized to engage with media. An American and four Indians have so far been confirmed as being amongst the dead, with the nationality of the other foreign victims so far undetermined. Five Afghans were killed in the attack. Fifty-four people were rescued from the venue by security forces, and The Indian Express reports that at least seven people were also wounded in the attack.

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According to The Guardian, the party involved an appearance by Indian singer Altaf Hussein, who performed for the guests. Witnesses reported to the newspaper that Indian and Turkish nationals predominated, alongside Afghan government officials. Amin Habib, a U.S. citizen from Los Angeles, told the Associated Press that the celebration was held in honor of a Canadian. Canada has announced that all of its nationals in Kabul are safe and accounted for.

The Express reports that Ahmad Zia Massoud, President Ashraf Ghani’s “special envoy for good governance,” visited the attack scene, and claimed that the Taliban initiated the attack under the impression Indian Ambassador Amar Sinha was among the guests. This motivation has not been confirmed, and was not mentioned in the Taliban’s statement.

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The group, represented by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, circulated an email to the media after the attack. Mujahid claimed that the hotel was targeted due to the foreigners — particularly American nationals — staying there. While the Afghan government has reported there being three attackers, the Taliban claims there was only one: armed with a Kalashnikov, a suicide vest, and a pistol. The Times highlights that the Taliban customarily exaggerate their claims, meaning their “heroic” narrative of a lone assailant is possibly designed simply to emphasize the efficacy of Taliban combatants.

On Wednesday, before the attack, the hotel had hosted a conference for local and international NGO workers. Those participants had dissipated before the attack was launched, The Guardian reports. But the newspaper notes that the Park Palace is a popular spot for foreigners. Afghan police maintained a police cordon around the hotel’s perimeter Thursday. They had earlier stated that the gunmen were killed in an exchange of gunfire with Afghan security forces.

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An email statement from US Embassy Spokeswoman Monica Cummings confirmed the death of one American citizen in the attack, although she provided not further details. The identity of the victims has not been made known. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims,” Cummings wrote, adding that the embassy was working with Afghan authorities to ascertain what happened.

Gunfire and explosions were heard from the hotel until after midnight, and at least five ambulances waited outside the siege area. Hashmat Habib, a 72-year-old retired businessman, told The Guardian that he fled the scene. “I was sitting in a yard with some guests of the hotel when the shooting started,” he recalled. “So I went upstairs and tried to find out where the shooting was coming from.”

On Thursday, Indian Ambassador Amar Sinha confirmed that four Indian nationals had been killed: three men and a woman. Sinha added that the victims were not members of the Indian embassy staff, and that at least six Indian nationals had been rescued after the attack. As the siege drew on, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his concerns about the attack, and later expressed his condolences and regret over the loss of both Afghan and Indian lives.

The Taliban’s spring offensive has so far seen the insurgents gain ground in several Afghan provinces. In an earlier Wednesday attack, their fighters attacked a religious gathering in Helmand province, killing seven people. Previous attacks in Kabul have specifically targeted places where foreigners are known to gather — a difficult task, and a strong statement, since these hotels and restaurants are often the most well guarded locations in the city. In March last year, an attack on the luxurious Serena Hotel during a Persian New Year celebration left nine dead.

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Afghanistan’s UN Mission condemned Wednesday’s guesthouse attack as an “atrocity.” The mission's human rights director Georgette Gagnon said:

Taliban statements on avoiding civilian casualties ring hollow when we set them against the latest killings. The Taliban should abide by their commitments and immediately stop deliberately attacking civilians.

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