At least 18 dead following Taliban attack on Kabul hotel

14 foreigners killed; 11 were employees of private Afghan airline; three gunmen killed

At least 18 people including 14 foreigners were killed when the Taliban attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, the interior ministry confirmed. Video: Reuters

 

At least 18 people including 14 foreigners were killed when the Taliban attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, the interior ministry confirmed.

Spokesman Najib Danish said 11 of the 14 foreigners killed were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline. He added that 10 others were wounded including six security officers and four civilians. KamAir said flights had been disrupted because of the attack.

Afghan special forces ended an overnight siege at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel on Sunday, killing the last gunman from a group of three attackers who stormed the hotel, taking hostages and battling security forces for hours.

Two gunmen were killed on Saturday night. It was initially reported that four gunmen had attacked the hotel.

Local media reports said the dead included Venezuelans and Ukrainians. Zamari Kamgar, the airline’s deputy director, said it was still trying to locate staff. More than 150 guests were able to flee as parts of the building caught fire, with some shimmying down sheets tied together and dropped from upper-floor windows and others rescued by Afghan forces.

A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul. Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters
A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul. Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Abdul Rahman Naseri, a guest who was at the hotel for a conference, was in the hall of the hotel when he saw four gunmen dressed in army uniforms. “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,” Mr 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.” Even after officials said the attack was over, sporadic gunshots and explosions could be heard from the site.

The raid was the latest in a series of attacks that have underlined the city’s vulnerability and the ability of militants to mount high-profile operations aimed at undermining confidence in the Western-backed government. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the attack was 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.

A wounded security guard receives help after being rescued from Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen. Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters
A wounded security guard receives help after being rescued from Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen. Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters

Thick smoke

As day broke on Sunday, thick clouds of black smoke poured 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, said Ahmad Waheed, an official at the telecommunications ministry.

Afghans walk near the Intercontinental Hotel as smoke billows during a fight between gunmen and Afghan security forces in Kabul on January 21st. Photograph: Wakil Kosar/AFP/Getty Images
Afghans walk near the Intercontinental Hotel as smoke billows during a fight between gunmen and Afghan security forces in Kabul on January 21st. Photograph: Wakil Kosar/AFP/Getty Images

Danesh said a private company had taken over responsibility for security at the hotel three weeks ago and there would be an investigation into possible failings, just days after a US embassy warning of possible attacks on hotels in Kabul. Several armoured US military vehicles with heavy machine guns could be seen close to the hotel along with Afghan police units as Special Forces manoeuvred around the site. 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. “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.”

Other attacks

Although US and Afghan officials say the Taliban has come under strain after the United States increased assistance to Afghan security forces and stepped up air strikes against insurgents, security remains precarious across the country. In separate incidents on Sunday, eight people were killed by a roadside bomb in the western province of Herat and 18 members of local militia forces were killed at a checkpoint in the northern province of Balkh.

The Intercontinental hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan was previously attacked by Taliban fighters in 2011. File photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
The Intercontinental hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan was previously attacked by Taliban fighters in 2011. File photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

As pressure on the battlefield has increased, officials have warned that the danger of attacks on high-profile targets in Kabul and other cities would increase. After repeated attacks in Kabul, notably last May when a truck bomber killed at least 150 people outside the German embassy, security has been further tightened.

Large areas of central Kabul are already closed off behind high concrete blast walls and police checkpoints but the ability of the assailants to get into a well-protected hotel frequented by both government officials and foreigners demonstrated how difficult it remains to stop them.–AP and Reuters