KABUL • Gunmen in army uniforms who stormed Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel battled Afghan special forces for 13 hours in an overnight siege that resulted in heavy casualties among hotel guests, officials and witnesses said yesterday.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, which saw more than 150 guests flee as parts of the building caught fire. Some hotel guests shimmied down from upper-floor windows via sheets that had been tied together, while others were rescued by Afghan forces.
The Interior Ministry said yesterday that 18 people, including 14 foreigners, were killed in the attack. Earlier, it said around 150 people were rescued. A Ukrainian is said to be among the dead.
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 Mr 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.
Mr Abdul Rahman Naseri, a guest who was at the hotel for a conference, was in the hall when he saw four insurgents 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."
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.
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.
Taleban 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 Taleban, which claimed a previous attack on the hotel in 2011 which killed 21 people.
As day broke yesterday, thick clouds of black smoke could be seen pouring from the building, an imposing 1960s structure situated 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 yesterday.
More than 100 IT managers and engineers were on site when the attack took place, Mr Ahmad Waheed, an official at the Telecommunications Ministry, said.
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.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE