Militants lay siege to guesthouse in Kabul's diplomatic area
Heavy gunfire and explosions echoed through an upscale neighbourhood in Afghanistan's capital late Tuesday night, as police surrounded a guesthouse popular with foreigners thought to be under attack by insurgents.
The firefight in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, which is home to several embassies, sounded to be focused on the Rabbani Guesthouse. It began just after 11pm (1830 GMT, 2:30pm EDT), with heavy explosions accompanying sporadic automatic weapon fire.
Police could not be immediately reached for comment, though officers could be seen blocking off roads into the area. Police officers later smashed lights throughout the upscale neighborhood to cover their movements.
Deputy interior minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi said a guesthouse appeared to be the target of the attack, without specifically naming the Rabbani. He said two attackers had been killed and that authorities didn't know how many were involved in the assault.
The guesthouse, once known as the Heetal Hotel, was damaged in a December 2009 suicide car bomb attack near the home of former Afghan vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud - brother of legendary anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed in an al Qaeda suicide bombing two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. That 2009 attack killed eight people and wounded nearly 40.
The hotel is owned by the Rabbani family, who include the late Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as president of Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996, and current Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes amid intensified fighting across many parts of Afghanistan since the Taliban launched their warm weather offensive a month ago.
Taliban militants attacked a guesthouse days earlier this month in Kabul, killing an American, a British citizen, an Italian, four Indian nationals, five Afghans and two Pakistanis. The United Nations already has documented a record high number of civilian casualties - 974 killed and 1,963 injured - in the first four months of 2015, a 16 percent increase over the same period last year.
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.
Earlier Tuesday, four militants launched the attack on the court in the capital of Wardak province, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kabul, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor.
One of the attackers blew himself up as the other three exchanged fire with police before being killed, Khogyani said.
In Uruzgan province, officials said that a district has been under attack by militants for the past two weeks.
"A high number of Taliban are attacking different checkpoints but we are not getting any response from senior officials in Kabul," district chief Abdul Karim Karimi said.
He said that since the fighting began, 12 soldiers have been killed and dozens were wounded.
"Unless we get government help, we are going to lose the district," he said.
On Monday, militants killed at least 26 police officers and soldiers in ambushes in southern Helmand province. As police retreated, militants surrounded the police headquarters of Naw Zad district and fired down on them from surrounding hills, district police chief Napas Khan said.