- KABUL: Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul killing at least 18 people, including 14 foreigners, sparking a twelve-hour fight with security forces that left terrified guests scrambling to escape and parts of the building ablaze.
Afghan security forces killed four attackers during the night-time siege, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told Tolo News, during which people trapped inside the landmark hotel were seen climbing over balconies to escape.
Six other civilians were reported wounded and more than 100 people, including 16 foreigners, have been rescued from the hotel, said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish.
"The security forces are going room-by-room to make sure that there is no any other attacker in the building," he said.
"Fourteen foreigners were killed and four Afghans," interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told Afghanistan's Tolo News, without specifying the nationalities involved.
Ukrainian officials have already said at least one Ukrainian is among the dead.
The Taliban claimed the attack, which began late Saturday, saying five gunmen armed with suicide vests targeted foreigners and Afghan officials.
"The attack is over," says Interior Ministry spokesperson Najib Danish. But an official with Afghanistan's spy agency told AFP the attack was "not over yet" with attackers "still shooting on security forces".
Six other people, including three security forces, were reported wounded, and more than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, have been rescued from the hotel, said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish. The bodies of three attackers were recovered as security forces continued to clear the landmark building, he said. "For the time being we can only confirm that one foreigner was among those who were killed in the attack," he added.
"The security forces are going room-by-room to make sure that there are no more attackers in the building," Danish said.
TOLO News has quoted Ministry of Interior's spokesperson Danish saying that by 8:30 am, two attackers were killed and security forces were still looking for at least one more assailant.
The bodies of four attackers were recovered as security forces continued to clear the landmark building, Interior Ministry spokesman said.
Afghan news organisation TOLONEWs, reports that witness who managed to flee the hotel says 15 people are killed and others wounded in the ongoing attack.
According to Afghanistan media, two attackers have been killed and clearance operation is ongoing in Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel.
Five floors of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel have been cleared. Interior Ministry says that 100 people, among which 16 are foreigners, have been rescued.
It was not clear how many people had been inside the hotel, which was attacked by Taliban militants in 2011.
Afghan security forces were still trying to clear the landmark hilltop hotel with at least one attacker on the loose, a security source said.
Dramatic images broadcast on Afghanistan's Tolo News showed thick black smoke and flames billowing from the top floor of the hotel.
A man dropped himself from the 6th floor of the intercontinental hotel. Two others managed to get to the fifth floor and continue to the next floors. Shocking video #AFG #KabulAttack pic.twitter.com/vxEl4SguNZ— Ahmad Mukhtar (@AhMukhtar) January 21, 2018
At least one person could be seen climbing over a top-floor balcony using bedsheets to escape, before loosing his grip and plunging to the ground.
Four gunmen burst into the hotel on Saturday night, opening fire on guests and staff and taking dozens of people hostage, including foreigners.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest assault in the war-torn Afghan capital that followed a series of security warnings in recent days to avoid hotels and other locations frequented by foreigners.
The Intercontinental Hotel is located on a hilltop in the Bagh-e Bala area of the capital and is heavily guarded because it hosts both Afghan and foreign guests as well as official conferences. Last night's attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault.
The property is not part of the InterContinental chain of worldwide hotels.
The Interior Ministry said a private firm assumed responsibility for securing the hotel around three weeks ago. The ministry says it is investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building.
Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were gathered at the hotel to participate in a conference organized by the Telecommunication Ministry.
A guest hiding in a room said he could hear gunfire inside the 1960s hotel where dozens of people attending an information technology conference on Sunday were staying.
"I don't know if the attackers are inside the hotel but I can hear gunfire from somewhere near the first floor," the man, who did not want to be named, tolf AFP by telephone.
"We are hiding in our rooms. I beg the security forces to rescue us as soon as possible before they reach and kill us."
His phone was switched off when AFP tried to contact him again.
No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which started around 9 p.m. Saturday. As the fighting raged, a fire broke out. Firefighters are still battling the blaze. Live TV footage showed people trying to escape through windows on the upper stories.
Capt. Tom Gresback, the spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in a statement that Afghan forces were leading the response efforts. He said that according to initial reports, no foreign troops were hurt in the attack.
Afghan Telecom regional director Aziz Tayeb, who was attending the IT conference, said he saw the attackers enter the hotel as he was walking towards the exit.
"Everything became chaotic in a moment. I hid behind a pillar and I saw people who were enjoying themselves a second ago screaming and fleeing like crazy, and some of them falling down, hit by bullets," Tayeb told AFP.
Local resident Abdul Sattar said he had spoken by phone to some of his friends who are chefs and waiters at the hotel and had been trapped inside.
"Suddenly they attacked the dinner gathering... (then) they broke into the rooms, took some people hostage and they opened fire on some of them," he told AFP.
Rahimi said the attackers were armed with small weapons and rocket-propelled grenades when they stormed the hotel, which is a popular venue for weddings, conferences and political gatherings.
The last major attack on a high-end hotel in Kabul was in March 2014 when four teenage gunmen raided the Serena, killing nine people including AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad.
The Intercontinental was previously targeted in June 2011 when a suicide attack claimed by the Taliban killed 21 people, including 10 civilians.
Security at the Intercontinental is relatively lax compared with other luxury hotels in Kabul.
Even before the attack was over, authorities were questioning how the assailants got past the hotel's security, which was taken over by a private company three weeks ago, Danish said.
"We will investigate it," he said.
A hotel employee told AFP that as he fled the staff living quarters located in a building next to the hotel he saw the new security guards running for their lives.
"They didn't do anything, they didn't attack. They had no experience," the man said on the condition of anonymity.
Afghan forces have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. They have also had to contend with a growing Islamic State affiliate that has carried out a number of massive attacks in recent years.
(With inputs from agencies)