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Afghan Police Probe Deadly Taliban Attack On Upscale Kabul Guesthouse

Afghan police guard the gate of a guesthouse after it was attacked in Kabul on May 14.
Afghan police guard the gate of a guesthouse after it was attacked in Kabul on May 14.

As investigators consider the possibility of an inside job, details surrounding a deadly Taliban attack that targeted foreign partygoers at a popular Kabul guesthouse remain sketchy.

The day after the late-evening attack took place at the Park Palace facility on May 13, triggering a five-hour standoff with Afghan security forces, Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said that at least five foreigners were killed and five others injured.

The death count remains unclear, however, with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan saying that 14 civilians were killed.

The Park Palace in Kabul's Kolola Poshta neighborhood was about to host a concert by popular singer Altaf Hussain, with many foreign guests in attendance, when the gunfire started, according to eyewitnesses.

Haseeb Sarhadi told RFE/RL that the shooting began just as he arrived at the guesthouse ahead of the concert. Sarhadi said he and others "hid under hotel beds" to wait out the attack.

A Park Palace employee who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said he barricaded himself in a room when the shooting began and could hear people screaming in the corridors as gunshots rang out.

When he managed to flee the premises, he told the news agency, he saw at least five blood-covered bodies lying near the entrance.

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Five Killed In Kabul Hotel Attack
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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to RFE/RL and other media.

Mujahid said that "the attack was planned carefully to target the party in [sic] which important people and Americans were attending."

How Many Killed?

Media and official reports on the casualties point to a greater number of victims than the official Kabul police account.

Indian Ambassador Amar Sinha confirmed on May 14 that four Indian nationals -- three men and a woman -- were among the dead.

He said they were among a total of 11 Indian citizens who were residing at the Park Palace, none of whom were embassy personnel.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed that a U.S. citizen was killed in the attack, but it did not give further details and didn't identify the victim.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry confirmed on its website on May 14 that one Kazakh national was killed. And Italian news agencies were reporting that two Italian citizens were killed.

Afghan police gave conflicting accounts of how many gunmen were involved.

"So far we have identified one attacker, but we are looking to see if there were more," Rahimi said. "We are trying to find out the circumstances in which the attack took place. We need more investigation."

Rahimi said investigators want to find out "how the terrorists managed to enter the hotel."

"Our investigative teams are working to find out how the attack happened because it did not start with an explosion at the main gate or killing of guards," he said. "Whatever it was, it started from inside hotel."

Police kept the hotel cordoned off on May 14.

Taliban militants have staged a number of attacks on compounds, restaurants, and hotels and guesthouses frequented by foreigners.

In March 2014 four gunmen evaded security checks and opened fire at Kabul's most prestigious hotel, Serena, killing nine people.

Twenty-one foreigners, including four UN employees, were killed in a suicide bomb attack on the popular Lebanese restaurant Taverna du Liban in Kabul's upscale Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in January 2014.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters