Heavy casualties after overnight battle at Kabul hotel kabul

Gunmen in army uniforms who stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel late on Saturday and battled Afghan Special Forces through the night killed more than 30 people and wounded many more, although the final toll of dead and wounded may still be higher.

Wahid Majroh, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said that 19 bodies had been brought into city hospitals, with six identified as foreigners.

However a senior Afghan security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the death toll was over 30 and might climb higher. The dead included hotel staff and guests as well as members of the security forces who fought the attackers.

All five attackers were also killed, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said.

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.

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.

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. 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.

The Taliban, which attacked the same hotel in 2011, claimed responsibility for the attack, its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

A statement from the interior ministry put the blame on the Haqqani network, a group affiliated with the Taliban that is notorious for its attacks on urban targets.

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,” 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 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.

Although U.S. and Afghan officials say the Taliban has been forced onto the back foot after the United States increased its help to Afghan security forces and stepped up air strikes last year, 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.

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. The insurgents have carried out dozens of such attacks over recent years. (Reuters)