At least three people were killed when gunmen attacked a hotel popular with Chinese business people in the Afghan capital on Monday, with witnesses reporting multiple blasts and several bursts of gunfire.
Smoke could be seen pouring from the multi-storey Kabul Longan Hotel as Taliban security forces rushed to the site and sealed off the neighbourhood.
The Taliban claim to have improved security since storming back to power in August last year but there have been scores of bomb blasts and attacks, many claimed by the local chapter of Daesh group.
Italian non-governmental organisation Emergency NGO, which operates a hospital just one kilometre from the blast site, said it had received 21 casualties, including three people dead on arrival. It did not say if those dead were civilians or involved in the attack.
A Kabul police spokesman said three attackers were killed and one suspect arrested, blaming the assault on “mischievous elements.”
“All the guests of the hotel have been rescued and no foreigner was killed. Only two foreign guests were injured when they threw themselves from an upper storey,” chief Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid added on Twitter.
Video circulating on social media showed people clamouring out of windows on the lower floors of the building, with the hotel sign — in English and Chinese — clearly visible.
Other video showed huge flames licking out of another section, with thick plumes of smoke. A helicopter also made several passes of the area.
The attack came a day after China’s ambassador met the Afghan deputy foreign minister to discuss security-related matters and sought more attention on the protection of its embassy.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the attack happened near a Chinese guesthouse and its embassy in Kabul was closely monitoring the situation.
The hotel is popular with Chinese business visitors, who have flocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban’s return in pursuit of high-risk but potentially lucrative business deals.
China, which shares a rugged 76-kilometre border with Afghanistan, has not officially recognised the Taliban government but is one of the few countries to maintain a full diplomatic presence there.
Agence France-Presse / Reuters