KABUL: Taliban gunmen stormed a Kabul guesthouse used by a U.S.-based aid group and held four foreigners hostage for several hours Friday, just eight days before Afghanistan holds a presidential election that the militant group has vowed to derail.
Kabul is already on high alert ahead of the April 5 vote, which the Islamist movement has denounced as a Western-backed sham.
The siege of the walled compound, which is also home to a small church, lasted several hours, before Afghan security forces killed the last remaining Taliban gunman holed up inside.
At least one Afghan child was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the building and insurgents forced their way in. There were no foreign casualties.
A Reuters witness saw about 20 people being evacuated from the guesthouse in an upmarket residential area of Kabul, many looking frightened and shocked.
“The fight is over. The five attackers are dead,” Qadam Shah Shaheem, commander of 111 Military Corps Kabul, told Reuters.
“One detonated his car loaded with explosives, three others detonated explosives attached to their bodies inside the building, and one was shot by security forces. All four foreigners are alive and safe now.”
The manager of an organization using the guesthouse said four people had been held hostage 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, of Roots of Peace, a U.S.-based group involved in clearing mines in Afghanistan.
The attack was a chilling reminder to Afghan voters and foreigners of the kind of assault the Taliban are capable of mounting in the heavily guarded Afghan capital, after their leaders ordered fighters to disrupt the election.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, saying in a statement that the target was the foreign guesthouse and church.