Afghanistan: Kabul's Intercontinental hotel attacked by Taliban militants|
Taliban militants with at least one suicide bomb attack popular Kabul hotel, with reports of at least 10 people killedAghanistan security forces at the InterContinental hotel. Witnesses said they heard bursts of gunfire and saw shooting from the roof. Photograph: AP
A commando squad of at least five Taliban suicide bombers attacked a famous Kabul hotel where senior Afghan officials were staying, waging a battle with security forces that lasted for hours.
The assault on the old Intercontinental began when militants dressed in civilian clothes burst into the hotel while many guests were in the dining room. At least two receptions were thought to be taking place, including a wedding party.
The BBC reported that 10 people had been killed, although it was not possible to confirm that figure with Afghan authorities.
From miles across the city residents could see the blacked-out hotel on a hilltop on the western outskirts of Kabul illuminated by red tracer bullets and explosions.
Afghan police and commandos flocked to the hotel to engage the attackers with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades soon after the attack began at around 9.30pm local time. At least one suicide bomber successfully blew himself up, in a tactic that has been used several times before on heavily fortified buildings, including hotels, in the capital.
The Taliban's spokesman was quick to claim credit for the assault, claiming he had been in contact with one of the attackers inside the hotel.
The spokesman told AP: "One of our fighters called on a mobile phone and said: 'We have gotten onto all the hotel floors and the attack is going according to the plan. We have killed and wounded 50 foreign and local enemies. We are in the corridors of the hotel now taking guests out of their rooms — mostly foreigners. We broke down the doors and took them out one by one."'
His claim was denied by senior Kabul police officer Mohammad Zahir, who said that the militants had been isolated on a "small section of the roof" and had not been able to go around room to room.
He said that there also an unknown number of insurgents firing from positions outside the hotel and that around five of his officers, including Zahir himself, had been wounded.
The 1960s hotel, which is no longer formerly of the Intercontinental chain, is not the magnet to western travellers it once was, many of whom now stay in more recently built hotels.
But it is popular with well-heeled Afghans and leading political figures, and it hosts a number of important conferences each year.
An Afghan official said that a group of senior provincial officials had been staying at the hotel at the time.
The attack on such a well defended hotel, which is impossible to approach without going through at least two security checkpoints, is embarrassing to the Afghan government as it prepares to take responsibility for security in Kabul province as part of much vaunted "transition" strategy. The attack came the night before the start of a conference about the gradual transition of civil and military responsibility from foreign forces to Afghans, although an Afghan government official told reporters that the hotel was not one of the venues to be used by the conference or its delegates.
Afghan authorities have already been nominally in charge of Kabul for some time.
Attacks in the Afghan capital have been relatively rare, although violence has increased since the 2 May killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in Pakistan, and since the start of the Taliban's annual spring offensive.
On 18 June, insurgents wearing Afghan army uniforms stormed a police station near the presidential palace and opened fire on officers, killing nine.