Stars and Stripes — Jan 21, 2018
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry says four Afghans and 14 foreigners were killed in an attack at a popular luxury hotel in Kabul that ended Sunday, after about 16 hours, according to the Associated Press.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, which began when gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel at around 9 p.m. Saturday. The head of telecommunications for Farah province was among those killed, said Najib Danish, Interior Ministry spokesman.
Ukraine says one of its citizens was killed in the attack. Vasyl Kyrylych, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, announced the death of the Ukrainian citizen in a brief statement on Twitter, without providing further details.
The Taliban said they targeted the hotel because the facility was hosting a gathering of Afghan and foreign officials. One of two major hotels in the city, the Intercontinental is a popular site for weddings, press conferences, official meetings and more.
At the time of the attack, officials from Afghanistan’s 34 provinces had gathered for a meeting organized by the Telecommunications Ministry.
More than 13 hours later on Sunday morning, dozens of journalists and spectators had gathered to watch the siege play out. They lined a main road outside the hotel complex, which is situated on a hill in the Bagh-e-Bala neighborhood in the Afghan capital’s northwest, as sporadic and sometimes heavy gunfire and blasts echoed down from the hilltop.
One of the spectators, Rahmadullah Omarkhaid, 50, said the incident “tells you everything you need to know” about security in Afghanistan. He said he feared a worsening situation in his country, where there has been fighting for as long as he can remember.
Kabul security has been heightened as the city has hosted several important delegations in recent days, including a visit last week by representatives of the United Nations Security Council.
On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy here warned Americans to keep a low profile and be on alert after it received reports that militants may be planning attacks on hotels or other places where foreigners congregate.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack Sunday afternoon, saying it had ended before noon. On the scene, however, gunshots and blasts continued into the noon hour and smoke occasionally billowed from the top floors of the building, which had been charred by flames.
Occasional snaps sounded as bullets struck nearby, and some Afghans and journalists ducked into wide gutters lining the road or stooped behind one of the eight civilian ambulances along the route, which had largely been closed to civilian traffic.
At one point, a police ambulance was seen speeding away from the scene as other trucks brought in food and fresh security forces.
It wasn’t until after 1 p.m., 16 hours after the attack began, that Afghan security forces waved the flag on the hotel’s rooftop, signaling the all-clear.
U.S. Ambassador John R. Bass in Kabul condemned the attacks and praised the government forces for their response to the violence.
“Afghanistan deserves peace and security – not deliberate and murderous attacks on innocent civilians,” Bass said.
At least one American had been reportedly trapped inside the hotel when it came under siege. An embassy spokesman said officials were aware of those reports and were in touch with Afghan officials, but had no further details about U.S. casualties.
U.S. military officials with the NATO mission in the country said Saturday there were no U.S. or coalition casualties in the attack.
The Intercontinental Hotel has witnessed decades of conflict in Kabul. It hosted Soviet invaders and western journalists and it suffered damage from rocket fire in Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s.
Saturday’s attack was the second major siege on the hotel since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In 2011, seven Taliban fighters attacked the hotel, leading to a standoff with security forces that lasted five hours and left all the attackers, plus 11 others, dead.
In a statement, the Taliban said five of its members, armed with light and heavy weapons and strapped with suicide vests, had launched the attack. Officials have not said how the gunmen entered the complex, which is secured by several layers of checkpoints, metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs. Security duties at the hotel had reportedly been handed over to a private company less than three weeks ago.
Hawa Mohmand, 40, sat on the stoop of a business on the side of the road opposite the hotel.
“There is no security,” she said. “There is no peace. If there is security, how can they get into this hotel?”
Mohmand said her brother was trapped on the third floor of the Intercontinental, where he worked on the staff of the Pakistani consul, who resides in the building. She was distraught as she awaited news of his fate.
“We’re sad and terrorized by this incident,” she said.