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Aid workers escape Taliban Kabul siege

City is already on high alert ahead of the 5 April vote

Taliban gunmen stormed a Kabul guesthouse used by a US-based aid group and held four foreigners hostage for several hours on Friday, just eight days before Afghanistan holds a presidential election, which the militant group has vowed to derail.

Kabul is already on high alert and people across the country are on edge ahead of the 5 April vote the hard-line Islamist movement denounces 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 casualties among foreigners.

A witness told Reuters they 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, said.

The manager of an organisation 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, country manager of Roots of Peace, a US-based group involved in mine clearance and other projects in Afghanistan. “The rest of the guys are outside.”

The attack was a chilling reminder to Afghan voters and foreigners of the kind of assault the Taliban is capable of mounting in the heavily guarded capital after its leaders ordered fighters to disrupt the election.

Violence has spiralled in Afghanistan in recent weeks, with almost daily explosions and gunfights around the country.

Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked an election commission office in Kabul on Tuesday, and last week, nine people including an AFP journalist and an election observer were killed in an attack on a highly fortified hotel.