An Afghan security officer patrols near the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul in this video image following reports of an explosion Tuesday.
An Afghan security officer patrols near the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul in this video image following reports of an explosion Tuesday. AP
NATO helicopters fired rockets at gunmen on the rooftop of a besieged Kabul hotel early Wednesday, ending a more than four-hour standoff between militants and police that left at least seven people dead, Afghan officials said.
Deputy police chief in Kabul, Daoud Amin, said eight other people — two policemen and six civilians — were wounded in the attack that ended when NATO helicopters fired rockets at gunmen on the rooftop of the besieged Inter-Continental hotel; Afghan security forces stormed the top of the building.
Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said the helicopters killed three gunmen.
Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
Tracer bullets light up the sky during an attack Tuesday at the Inter-Continental hotel in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.
Tracer bullets light up the sky during an attack Tuesday at the Inter-Continental hotel in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi says six suicide bombers attacked the hotel, which is frequented by Afghan officials and foreign visitors. He said two were killed by hotel guards and four others either blew themselves up or were killed in the airstrike or by Afghan troops.
"As dawn is breaking across Kabul, the attack seems to be over," NPR's Quil Lawrence said on All Things Considered.
Lawrence also said it's not clear whether those killed were foreigners or Afghan VIPs who stay in the hotel.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the rare, nighttime attack in the capital.
The attackers were heavily armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and grenade launchers, Afghan officials said. After they entered the hotel and at least one of the bombers blew himself up, Afghan police rushed to the scene and firefights broke out. They battled for hours with three gunmen who took up positions on the roof.
Witnesses heard gunfire and explosions from inside the hotel where police battled with gunmen. Some guests fled down the steep, fortified hill that has usually provided the hotel with some security throughout many years of war in Kabul.
Police cordoned off the area and electricity apparently had been cut, leaving the massive building in darkness punctuated by muzzle flashes.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility in a telephone call to the AP. He said 50 "foreign and local enemies" were killed and wounded. But NPR's Quil Lawrence said the Taliban's numbers are "often quite exaggerated."
Earlier 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."
The attack occurred the day before a conference was scheduled in Kabul to discuss plans for Afghan security forces to take the lead for securing an increasing number of areas of the country between now and 2014 when international forces are expected to move out of combat roles. Afghans across the country were in the city to attend, though it's unknown if any where staying at the Inter-Continental.
NPR's Lawrence said the overnight attack highlighted the lingering security concerns in Afghanistan.
"We've now seen several high-profile attacks right in the middle of the city, sort of proving that the Taliban can infiltrate — sometime wearing Afghan army uniforms and getting right into the center of the city and attacking police stations and training centers," he said.
NPR's Quil Lawrence contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press