KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least two people in an assault on a downtown Kabul hotel on Monday, the second attack in the capital in less than three weeks, Afghan and Western officials said.
Two people were wounded when the attacker detonated his explosives at the entrance to the Safi Landmark hotel in an area hit by a similar attack a year ago, leaving a pile of shattered glass and mangled metal, security officials said.
Gunshots were heard soon after the explosion.
Violence across Afghanistan in 2010 reached its worst levels since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, although the capital had enjoyed almost a year of relative calm. That now appears to have come to an end.
Monday's assault came little more than two weeks after a suicide bomber killed nine people at a supermarket used by foreigners in the heart of the city's diplomatic district.
Two security guards were killed and two civilians wounded in the latest attack, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary. Earlier reports put the death toll at three.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for both recent Kabul attacks. (For a timeline of attacks in Kabul, click)
Some analysts suggest the Afghan government struck an ad-hoc truce with militants to protect the capital as they worked to launch peace talks, but with few signs of progress that agreement now appears to be fraying.
Insurgents, the government and Western military officials have all denied cutting any kind of deal.
Vendors from shops on the first few floors of the hotel building took stock of wrecked storefronts and damaged inventory as a police pickup sped away with at least one body.
A severed head, apparently from the suicide bomber, lay on the street after the attack.
"It was a huge blast that deafened me," said gemstone seller Tamim Mehraj as he gathered his stock from the floor of a shop just meters from the blast site.
"The windows have been blown out and the shop is damaged."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as "un-Islamic".
While deadly, the attack was less devastating than an assault in late February 2010 on the same hotel and surrounding guesthouses that killed at least 16 people.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said four men had taken part.
"One fighter blew himself up and three others armed with weapons are fighting security forces," Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Afghan and Western security sources said they believed the attacker was acting alone.
(Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)
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