Kabul police chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi said Wednesday that 11 Afghan civilians — mostly hotel workers — died when heavily armed Taliban fighters stormed the Intercontinental and fought security forces for more than four hours.
Among guests at the hotel were governors and police chiefs of eight provinces who had gathered in Kabul to discuss plans for Afghan forces to take a greater role in providing security as U.S.-led NATO troops wind down their combat role by the end of 2014. None were hurt in the raid.
The 11 civilians killed included a judge from an unnamed province, five hotel workers and three Afghan policemen, Latifullah Mashal, the spokesman of the Afghan National Directorate for Security, said. He said no foreigners were killed, but two foreigners were among 14 people wounded in the attack. He did not disclose their nationalities.
NATO helicopters killed three gunmen on the roof and Afghan security forces rushed in to end the standoff. Hours later, however, one more explosion rocked the Intercontinental hotel. A lone suicide bomber, who had been wounded in the attack, blew himself up in one of the rooms, said Salangi.
The Intercontinental – known widely as the “Inter-Con” – opened in the late 1960s, and was the nation’s first international luxury hotel. It has at least 200 rooms and was once part of an international chain. But when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the hotel was left to fend for itself. Kabul police chief Ayub Salangi said: “Unfortunately as a result of this terrorist attack, 10 of our countrymen, all of them civilians lost their lives.”
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in the capital – an apparent attempt to show that they remain potent despite heavy pressure from coalition and Afghan security forces. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid later issued a statement claiming that Taliban attackers killed guards at a gate and entered the hotel.
Interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqi said the operation had ended after five hours of violence with the deaths of what he believed were six suicide bombers. “They’re still searching carefully and we’re very scared in case there are more casualties,” Siddiqi told AFP.
Major Tim James, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said ISAF deployed one helicopter at the request of Afghan authorities. ISAF corrected its earlier account that two choppers were sent.
“It flew over the hotel, circled it a few times. They were able to clearly identify a number of insurgents who were armed and wearing suicide vests and then they engaged the individuals with small-arms fire,” James told AFP.
“We’ve had reports that there were a number of explosions caused either by the insurgents detonating themselves or the engagement by the helicopter causing that (suicide vests) to explode,” he said.
A member of staff named Ezatullah said he hid in a room on one of the hotel’s uppermost floors, on the fifth storey, when the attack started late on Tuesday. “There was first gunfire, and then two blasts. It continued and got worse. The room I was hiding in filled with smoke,” he said. “I had to leave. As I got out I saw trails of blood, and then the police came and took me out of the building.”
US special envoy Marc Grossmansaid in the statement: “The United States strongly condemns the attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, which once again demonstrates the terrorists’ complete disregard for human life,” it said in a statement. We extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims of this attack”
Before the attack began on Tuesday, officials from the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan met in the capital to discuss prospects for making peace with Taliban insurgents to end the nearly decade-long war.
“The fact that we are discussing reconciliation in great detail is success and progress, but challenges remain and we are reminded of that on an almost daily basis by violence,” Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister, said at a news conference. “The important thing is that we act and that we act urgently and try to do what we can to put an end to violence.”
Coming on the eve of the transition conference, the attack threw a harsh light on U.S. President Barack Obama’s recently announced plan to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan in a year and to end the American combat role by the end of 2014. Kabul has been designated as one of seven cities and provinces scheduled to start shifting from NATO to Afghan control in July. [via CBC, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Huff Post]