KABUL  -- Gunmen in the Afghan capital stormed a guest house popular with foreigners on Wednesday evening, killing at least one American and two Indian citizens, officials said.

Authorities cordoned off the area around the Park Palace guest house in Kabul's Kolola Pushta area immediately after the attack began, at around 8:30 p.m. local time (1600 GMT).

The attack ended about five hours later as ambulances raced out of the area. Kabul's police chief was due to speak to reporters soon, police said.

The brutal assault was reminiscent of two attacks by Taliban fighters in Kabul last year, one on a restaurant and another on a hotel.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy confirmed that one American was killed in the attack, but gave no other details.

At least two Indian nationals were also killed and three who had lived at the guest house were rescued and sheltering at the India Embassy, a diplomat said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Qadam Shah Shaheem, commander of the Afghan National Army's 111th Corps, said police, army and special forces had rescued at least 16 people, but police cited witnesses as saying as many as 100 people had been trapped inside.

Kolola Pushta, home to several international guest houses and hotels, is also near both the Ministry of Interior and the India Embassy.

Last year in Kabul, Taliban gunmen killed nine people - including three children - dining at a restaurant in the upscale Serena Hotel. Two months earlier, attackers stormed into a popular Lebanese restaurant and gunned down 21 people including three United Nations staff and a senior IMF official.

Earlier on Wednesday, gunmen opened fire at a meeting of prominent Muslim clerics in the southern province of Helmand, killing at least seven people, police official Jan Aqa said.

The Ulemma Council, the highest religious authority in a deeply conservative country, had repeatedly announced its support for security forces fighting the hardline Islamist Taliban insurgents.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks since they announced their "spring offensive" last month, after most foreign forces pulled out at the end of last year, and claimed responsibility for the Helmand assault.

Ousted from power in 2001, the Taliban have been fighting to bring down the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

Earlier this month, insurgent suicide bombers twice attacked buses carrying staff belonging to the attorney general's office in Kabul, killing at least four people.