Taliban militants attack contractors' hotel in Kabul
A group of militants including a suicide truck bomber targeted a Kabul hotel for foreign contractors, killing one policeman and wounding four, Afghan authorities have said.
"Terrorists" used a truck full of explosives to breach the perimeter wall of the Northgate Hotel at around 1.30am local time, the interior ministry said. Three gunmen then entered the premises and started shooting.
The truck driver was killed when he detonated the explosives, the ministry's deputy spokesman Najib Danish said.
The blast in the eastern part of the Afghan capital shook the city and was followed by widespread power outages.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had sent heavily armed operatives as part of the attack.
Abdul Rahman Rahimi, the Kabul chief of police, said all the attackers who were on foot had been killed and that none of the hotel's residents were harmed.
Foreign hotels have long been a Taliban target. The Northgate Hotel was attacked in July 2013 in a similar manner, with a truck bomb breaching the gate and gunmen storming the compound. Reports at the time said that four security guards were killed before the attackers were shot dead.
The Northgate, which is east of Kabul's international airport and near the Bagram Air Base, is typical of many pre-fabricated compounds that offer accommodation to foreigners working in the Afghan capital. According to its website, it offers the same services as most hotels, along with high security, sniffer dogs, airport transfers and "background checks, if necessary".
The ministry's statement on the hotel attack said that police commandos arrived and surrounded the facility, but had to be careful because fuel tankers were stored in the area. They waited until dawn before trying to find the gunmen. "The operation finished at 7.30am when the terrorists were killed," the statement said.
Monday's attack followed a massive suicide bombing that struck a peaceful rally by Afghanistan's minority ethnic Hazara community on July 23 that killed more than 80 people and wounded hundreds. The Hazaras were rallying to call for a power project to be rerouted through their impoverished region in the central highlands when the suicide bomber hit.
That attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, which emerged last year in Afghanistan as an affiliate of the militant group fighting in Iraq and Syria. It was the IS Afghan branch's first assault in Kabul and the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime in 2001.
The Taliban statement on Monday's attack noted that hotels occupied by foreigners, especially "Americans invaders", are frequent targets.
In May 2015, the Taliban struck the Park Palace hotel in central Kabul, killing 14 people, including nine foreigners. In December 2014, four people, including three members of a South African family, were killed in a Taliban attack on the compound of a US-based educational charity.
Truck bombs remain a major concern for Afghan authorities because of the potential for huge casualties, especially in the built-up suburbs of the capital. Last August, a huge explosion in the Shah Shaheed area was attributed to a truck bomb having possibly detonated prematurely. The death toll was officially put at around 15, with hundreds wounded and a massive crater left in the middle of the residential area.
Elsewhere in the country, fierce fighting continued on Monday in the southern province of Helmand, and north in Kunduz, where the provincial capital of Kunduz city was overrun and seized by the insurgents last year.
The head of Helmand's provincial council Kareem Atal said fighting between government security forces and Taliban militants in the Nad Ali district had killed 19 policemen and soldiers in the past 24 hours. Around 17 policemen were killed in battles there on Friday and Saturday.
Much of the district has been taken by the insurgents, Mr Atal said, with "just the district governor's office and the police and army compounds left".
He said that in Kanasheen district - which was overrun by the Taliban on Friday and has been the scene of fierce fighting in the days since - two policemen were killed in battles.
Fighting that has raged for the past week in the Archi and Qalay-i-Zal districts of Kunduz province is continuing, the governor's spokesman Mahmood Danish said.
In Logar province, near Kabul, on Sunday, five civilians were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb in the Hazra district, the governor's spokesman Salim Saleh said.