KABUL, April 24 (Reuters) - Three Americans were killed on Thursday when a security guard opened fire at a Kabul hospital funded by a U.S. Christian charity, the latest in a spate of attacks on foreign civilians in Afghanistan.
Attacks on security forces, Afghan civilians and Westerners have been on the rise since the beginning of the year as Western forces prepare to leave the country and Afghans choose a new president.
"We can confirm three Americans were killed," said a U.S. Embassy official, without providing further details. A fourth American was wounded, the Afghan Health Ministry said.
The attacker, a policeman employed as a security guard at the Cure Hospital, was captured, the ministry said. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for similar attacks this year, but made no comment about Thursday's shooting.
Those killed included a doctor, and a father and son visiting the hospital, Health Minister Suriya Dalil said.
"As they were walking out of the hospital, the security guard opened fire on them, killing three and wounding another one," an Interior Ministry official said.
Among the dead was Dr. Jerry Umanos, a Chicago pediatrician who volunteered for nearly a decade in Afghanistan training medical residents and seeing patients, according to the Chicago health center where he worked for more than a quarter century.
"He was a loving, caring physician who served all of his patients with the utmost of respect," said Dr. Bruce Rowell, a pediatrician at Chicago's Lawndale Christian Health Center.
The security guard shot himself after the attack and was treated at the hospital before being transferred to Afghan custody, Mark Knecht, chief financial officer of Cure International, said in a televised statement.
Knecht said two other people were injured, but did not elaborate.
The shooting occurred in the grounds of the Cure Hospital, which specialises in children's and maternal health. It is considered one of the country's leading hospitals, in addition to being a training institution.
"They were not the people carrying guns, they did not have military uniforms, they came here under immense pressure and were here only to serve the people of Afghanistan," Dalil said of the victims.
"This was an inhumane and brutal action, and unfortunately will impact our heath services."
The White House condemned the attack as "despicable and cowardly" and said it would continue to support Afghans who are committed to building a peaceful future.
The Cure organisation began operating the hospital in 2005, at the invitation of the Afghan government, and 27 doctors and 64 nurses work there, according to Cure's website.
The attack came nearly three weeks after Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and reporter Kathy Gannon, 60, wounded while they were sitting in the back of a car in the east of the country.
The assault on the journalists came shortly after an Afghan journalist with the Agence France-Presse news agency was killed alongside eight other people when Taliban gunmen opened fire inside a luxury hotel in the centre of Kabul.
Also in March, a gunman shot dead Swedish journalist Nils Horner, 51, outside a restaurant in Kabul.
Eight Afghans and 13 foreigners were killed in January when a Taliban suicide bomber and gunmen attacked a restaurant in Kabul's diplomatic district. (Reporting by Jeremy Laurence; and Hamid Shalizi; Additional reporting by Nick Carey and David Bailey; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel and Dan Grebler)