Death toll in the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel attack has reached 30, according to a government official at the early hour of today. Gunmen in army uniforms had stormed and battled Afghan Special Forces through the night on Saturday at the hotel.
Wahid Majroh, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, however said the final toll of dead and wounded may still be higher. Majroh said 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 authorised 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. Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said all five attackers were also killed.
In Kiev, Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said on Twitter that six Ukrainians were killed in the attack.
The raid was the latest in a series of attacks which 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. No fewer 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.
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 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. Naseri said: “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.
“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.
As day broke on Sunday, thick clouds of black smoke poured from the building, an imposing 1960s structure set 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 on Sunday.
No fewer than 100 IT managers and engineers were on site when the attack took place, said Ahmad Waheed, an official at the telecommunications ministry.
Danesh said a private company had taken over responsibility for security at the hotel three weeks ago and there would be an investigation into possible failings.
The attack came just days after a U.S. embassy warning of possible attacks on hotels in Kabul.
Several armored U.S. military vehicles with heavy machine guns could be seen close to the hotel along with Afghan police units as Special Forces maneuvered around the site.
Hotel manager Ahmad Haris Nayab, who escaped unhurt, said the attackers had got into the main part of the hotel through a kitchen before going through the hotel, with many guests trapped in their rooms.
The senior security official said that the attackers had moved directly from the first floor to the fourth and fifth floors, suggesting the attack had been carefully prepared, possibly with inside help.
“When the sixth floor caught fire this morning, my roommate told me, either burn or escape,” said Mohammad Musa, who was hiding in his room on the top floor.
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