Soldiers Afghanistan - AP -  Feb. 13, 2011
Afghan soldiers frisk local men near a police headquarter which was attacked by Taliban insurgents in Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011. Photo by AP
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A suicide attacker on Monday targeted a downtown Kabul hotel that was hit by a similar
assault nearly a year ago, killing at least three people and wounding several others, Afghan and Western officials said.

The insurgent detonated his explosives at the entrance to the Safi Landmark hotel, leaving a pile of shattered glass and mangled metal. Gunshots were heard soon after the explosion.

"Three guards were killed, two civilians have been wounded and one is missing, after the suicide bomber blew himself up," said a police official who asked not to be named, as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Vendors from shops that occupy 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.

"It was a huge blast, that deafened me," said gemstone seller Tamim Mehraj, whose shop is meters from the site of the blast.

"The windows have been blown out and the shop is damaged."

A severed head, apparently from the bomber, still lay on the street outside.

A Western military official said initial concerns that a second suicide bomber was part of the assault plan had not been confirmed.

Violence in Afghanistan has reached the highest levels since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban, with civilian and military casualties at record levels.

Monday's assault came barely two weeks after a suicide bomber attacked a supermarket frequented by foreigners in the heart of the city's diplomatic district, killing at least nine

Several insurgent groups claimed responsibility for the attack.

In February 2010, at least 16 people were killed, including an Italian diplomat and Indian government officials, and dozens more wounded in a series of attacks on the Safi Landmark hotel and nearby guesthouses.