THE CIA's compound in Kabul has been attacked by a lone gunman. An Afghan employee of the US embassy killed an American citizen on Sunday evening and wounded another before being shot dead at the Ariana Hotel.

The CIA has its Afghan base at the hotel, which is regarded by the US as an adjunct to its embassy. While the incident appears minor compared with recent attacks it is further evidence of the deteriorating security situation in the once relatively stable capital.

It follows the assassination last Wednesday of the head of the Afghan High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani. The former president of Afghanistan was responsible for leading peace negotiations with the Taliban.

A week earlier, the US embassy and NATO's Kabul headquarters came under sustained attack, fired on with rockets and AK-47s, as militants laid siege to buildings in the centre of the city for more than 19 hours. Seven people were killed.

On Sunday, shortly after 9pm, a local employee opened fire inside the heavily fortified compound. Local reports say gunfire could be heard for only a few minutes. ''There was a shooting incident in the annex of the US embassy in Kabul last night involving an Afghan employee who was killed,'' an embassy spokesman, Gavin Sundwall, said yesterday. ''The motivation for the attack is still under investigation.'' The injuries to the second US citizen were not life threatening. An Afghan interior ministry spokesman, Siddiq Siddiqui, said the area was off-limits to local police and soldiers and the situation was handled entirely by American security forces.

''Our police heard there were some shots from inside the Ariana compound,'' but Afghan forces could not go inside, he said.

Kabul's police chief, Ayub Salangi, described the converted hotel to reporters as an ''office'' for the CIA.

While the CIA's presence in the hotel is not advertised, it has been common knowledge in Kabul, and even reported overseas, for several years. The CIA has not made any comment.

The heavily fortified Ariana hotel is behind several blast walls and armed checkpoints in Kabul's diplomatic enclave in a heavily guarded part of the city. It is almost inaccessible to casual visitors and just a few blocks from the presidential palace.

The attack comes against the backdrop of continued discord between the US and Pakistan over the Taliban-linked Haqqani terrorist network, which the Americans blame for the attack on their embassy, and which they say is given shelter and support in Pakistan.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the Haqqani was a ''strategic arm'' of the Pakistan government's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.

But Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has denied the allegations, and said America fostered close links with terrorist groups all over the world.

''And this particular network, which [the US] continues to talk about, is a network which was the blue-eyed boy of the CIA itself for many years,'' she said.

with agencies