Gunmen dressed in army uniforms who stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel battled Afghan Special Forces for 13 hours in an overnight siege that caused heavy casualties among hotel guests, officials and witnesses said on Sunday.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which saw more than 150 guests flee as parts of the building caught fire, with some shimmying down tied-together sheets from upper-floor windows and others rescued by Afghan forces.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said at least five people - four Afghans and one foreigner - were killed and six wounded but the casualty total is almost certainly higher.
|Security force are seen at the roof top of the hotel.
Local airline Kam Air said around 40 of its pilots and air crew, many of whom are foreigners, were staying in the hotel and as many as 10 had been killed. But Zamari Kamgar, the airline’s deputy director said it was still trying to locate its staff and did not yet know whether they were all safe.
Abdul Rahman Naseri, a guest who was at the hotel for a conference, was in the hall of the hotel when he saw four insurgents dressed in army uniforms.
|People were trying to run away from the hotel.
“They were shouting in Pashto (language), ‘Don’t leave any of them alive, good or bad. Shoot and kill them all,’ one of them shouted,” Naseri said.
“I ran to my room on the second floor. I opened the window and tried to get out using a tree but the branch broke and I fell to the ground. I hurt my back and broke a leg.”
It is unclear exactly how many gunmen were involved and even after officials said the attack was over, sporadic gunshots and explosions could be heard from the site. Danish said three gunmen were killed, while witnesses said four were involved and the Taliban said five.
The raid was the latest in a long series of attacks which have underlined the city’s precarious situation and the ability of militants to mount high profile operations aimed at undermining confidence in the Western-backed government.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid sent a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, which he said had been carried out by five fighters.
A statement from the interior ministry put the blame on the Haqqani network, a group affiliated with the Taliban, which claimed a previous attack on the hotel in 2011.
|Members of the security forces keep watching near the site of the attack.
As day broke on Sunday, thick clouds of black smoke could be seen pouring from the building, an imposing 1960s structure set on a hilltop and heavily protected like most public buildings in Kabul.
The Intercontinental is one of two main luxury hotels in the city and had been due to host an information technology conference on Sunday. More than 100 IT managers and engineers were on site when the attack took place, Ahmad Waheed, an official at the telecommunications ministry, said.
As Special Forces maneuvered around the site, several armored U.S. military vehicles with heavy machine guns could be seen close to the hotel along with Afghan police units.
Hotel manager Ahmad Haris Nayab, who escaped unhurt, said the attackers had got into the main part of the hotel through a kitchen before going through the hotel, with many guests trapped in their rooms.
“When the sixth floor caught fire this morning, my roommate told me, either burn or escape,” said Mohammad Musa, who was hiding in his room on the top floor when he heard gunfire.
“I got a bed sheet and tied it to the balcony. I tried to come down but I was heavy and my arms were not strong enough. I fell down and injured my shoulder and leg.”
The raid came just days after a U.S. embassy warning of possible attacks on hotels in Kabul.Reuters