ISIS claims deadly attack on Afghan military hospital

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KABUL, March 8 (Reuters) - Gunmen dressed as medics stormed a hospital in the Afghan capital on Wednesday and battled security forces for hours, killing more than 30 people and wounding dozens in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at the rear of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital, across the road from the heavily fortified U.S. embassy, and three attackers with automatic weapons and hand grenades entered the complex, security officials said.

Defence Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said the attack was suppressed by mid-afternoon, with all three gunmen killed.

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As security forces swept the hospital buildings, another ministry spokesman said they found at least 30 dead and 50 wounded, including doctors, patients and hospital staff, in addition to the three killed and 66 wounded reported earlier.

The gunmen, dressed as medical personnel, had taken up positions on the upper floors of the hospital and engaged special forces sent to the scene, officials said.

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Security forces blocked off the area around the hospital, near a busy traffic intersection, and special forces soldiers descended on to the roof of the main building from helicopters.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard for hours and, as fighting went on, there was a second explosion, which a spokesman said was caused when a car inside the hospital complex blew up.

A statement from Islamic State's Amaq News Agency said its fighters had attacked the hospital, while an Afghan Taliban spokesman denied responsibility, saying the Islamist insurgency had "no connection" with the attack.

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A billboard (L) with Koranic verses is seen in the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria April 1, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "PALMYRA SANADIKI" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An Islamic State flag hangs on the wall of an abandoned building in Tel Hamis in Hasaka countryside after the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) took control of the area March 1, 2015. Kurdish forces dealt a blow to Islamic State by capturing Tel Hamis, an important town, on Friday in the latest stage of a powerful offensive in northeast Syria, a Kurdish militia spokesman said. The capture of Tel Hamis was announced by the Kurdish YPG militia and confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country's civil war. REUTERS/Rodi Said (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
Tripods and a projector are pictured inside an ancient Hammam that was used by Islamic State militants as a media centre in Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
A view shows part of a media centre that belonged to Islamic State militants inside an ancient Hammam in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
A tunnel used by Islamic State militants is seen in the town of Sinjar, Iraq December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
A view shows car parts, which according to Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters were used by Islamic State militants to prepare car bombs, at a workshop in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
Iraqi soldiers inspect a vehicle used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A captured Islamic State tank and shells are seen at the Iraqi army base in Qaraqosh, east of Mosul, Iraq November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rocket-propelled grenades left behind by Islamic State militants are seen at a school, following clashes in Falluja, Iraq, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Explosives left behind by Islamic State militants are seen at a school, following clashes in Falluja, Iraq, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Iraqi security forces takes a selfie at a building that was used by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Ali, south of Mosul, Iraq November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A book belonging to Islamic State militants is seen in Falluja after government forces recaptured the city from Islamic State militants, Iraq, June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
An Iraqi officer displays Russian passports, which he says belong to Islamic State fighters, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A man who fled the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul shows his marriage certificate issued by the Islamic State militants at temporary court at Khazer camp in Iraq, January 18, 2017. Picture taken January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
A member of the Iraqi counterterrorism forces stands by an Islamic State militants weapons factory in Falluja, Iraq, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter inspects a room, which according to the SDF was used by Islamic State militants to prepare explosives, in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said
U.S. Special Operations Forces members inspect a drone used by Islamic State militants to drop explosives on Iraqi forces, in Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
A member of Iraqi security forces inspects a building that was used as a prison by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Ali, south of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A mass grave for Islamic State militants are seen in Falluja, Iraq, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
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The raid on the hospital followed warnings by government officials that high-profile attacks in Kabul were likely to escalate this year.

With U.S. President Donald Trump yet to announce his policy for Afghanistan, where the top U.S. commander has said thousands more international troops may be needed to maintain stability, the attack also pointed to Islamic State's growing threat.

The movement, opposed to both the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban, is based in the Middle East but has established a solid presence on the border with Pakistan.

It has also mounted several high-profile attacks on civilians in Kabul over the past year, including several on prominent Shi'ite targets.

HIDDEN WEAPON

The attack on a hospital that treats military casualties from around Afghanistan drew wide condemnation and President Ashraf Ghani said it "trampled on all human values".

"In all religions, a hospital is regarded as an immune site and attacking it is attacking the whole of Afghanistan," he said in impromptu remarks during a speech for International Women's Day in Kabul.

The NATO-led Resolute Support mission said it was ready to assist Afghan security services, while the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the attack on hospital staff and patients not involved in the conflict amounted to a war crime.

Witnesses inside the hospital said they were caught by surprise as a gunman dressed in a white doctor's coat took out a concealed AK-47 assault rifle and opened fire, killing at least one patient and one hospital worker.

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"Suddenly gunfire broke out and a gunman was shooting at everyone," said Zahir Khan, who hid under a table and later escaped. "He was shooting at doctors, patients and visitors."

As the fighting went on, some patients climbed out of the building and could be seen sheltering on window ledges.

The attack came just a week after dozens of people were killed and wounded in coordinated attacks on a police station and an office of the intelligence service in Kabul.

That attack was claimed by the Taliban, who are seeking to expel foreign troops, defeat the U.S.-backed government and reimpose Islamic law after their 2001 ouster.

Away from Kabul, dozens of people have been killed over the past few days in fighting across Afghanistan, from Kunduz and Baghlan in the north to Farah in the southwest and Helmand and Kandahar on the Pakistan border in the south.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Mohammad Ismail, Mohammad Aziz and Omar Fahmy in CAIRO; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mike Collett-White)

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