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The Inter-Continental Hotel on fire during the attack last night AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe

Ten killed as suicide bombers storm landmark Kabul hotel

The Taliban attackers, who were armed with machine guns and grenades, were said to be breaking down doors and “taking guests out of their rooms one by one.”

WHEN NATO HELICOPTERS fired rockets and Afghan forces rushed gunmen on the rooftop of a besieged Kabul hotel early Wednesday, it appeared that the four-hour standoff with heavily armed Taliban fighters that killed 10 Afghan civilians – mostly hotel workers – was over.

But hours later, one more explosion rocked the Inter-Continental hotel. A lone suicide bomber, who had been injured in the attack, blew himself up in one of the rooms, said Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi.

The attack on a five-story, Western-style hotel in the capital raised doubt about the ability of Afghan security forces to take charge of securing the nation from foreign combat forces.

Salangi said six to eight suicide attackers, who were able to penetrate the hotel’s tight security, attacked at around 10 pm Tuesday on the eve of a conference about transferring responsibility for security across the nation from foreign combat troops to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.

Salangi said most of the 10 victims were workers and cooks employed at the hotel. He provided no further details, but said none of the conference attendees staying at the hotel were harmed.

“There were no casualties among the guests – either foreign or Afghan,” he said. “No high-ranking government officials were killed.”

Nazar Ali Wahedi, chief of intelligence for Helmand province in the south, called the assailants “the enemy of stability and peace” in Afghanistan.

“Our room was hit by several bullets,” said Wahedi, who is attending the conference elsewhere in the capital. “We spent the whole night in our room.”

At around 3am, two NATO helicopters opened fire on the roof of the hotel where militants had taken up positions. US Army Major Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said the helicopters killed three gunmen and Afghan security forces clearing the hotel worked their way up to the roof and engaged the remaining insurgents.

‘We took them out one by one’

As the helicopters attacked and Afghan security forces moved in, there were four massive explosions. Officials at the scene said the blasts occurred when security forces either fired on suicide bombers or they blew themselves up.

After the gunmen were killed, the hotel lights that had been blacked out during the attack came back on. Afghan security vehicles and ambulances were removing the dead and wounded from the area. Hours later, however, the last of the suicide bombers, who had been holed up in a room, blew himself up, the finale of the deadly night of violence.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the rare nighttime attack in the capital – an apparent attempt to show that they remain potent despite heavy pressure from coalition and Afghan security forces. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid later issued a statement claiming that Taliban attackers killed guards at a gate and entered the hotel.

“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.’”

The Taliban often exaggerate casualties from their attacks. The attackers were heavily armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and grenade launchers, the Afghan officials said.

- AP