43 killed as Taliban’s 13-hour Kabul hotel siege ends

Forty-three civilians were killed after six Taliban militants in army uniforms and armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades besieged Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel late on Saturday, Tolo News reported.

At least 14 of the dead were foreigners, Reuters said citing officials and witnesses on Sunday.

Abdul Rahman Naseri, a guest who was at the hotel for an information technology conference, was in the hall when he saw four insurgents 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 told Reuters.

He said he ran to his room on the second floor, opened the window and tried to get out using a tree but its branch broke and he fell to the ground injuring his back and a leg.

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told Tolo News on Sunday that the 13-hour siege was over.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. On Thursday, the US State Department issued a statement warning that “extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul,” and citizens should stay alert and keep a low profile.

The militants first attacked the hotel guards before entering the hotel. Initial reports said they gunned down many guests and hotel staff and took some as hostage before moving up the building. They set fire to the kitchen on the third floor and positioned themselves on the upper floors of the building.

As security forces exchanged fire with militants holed up on the third and fourth floors, Afghan Special Forces were dropped from a helicopter on to the roof of the hotel. The militants now faced gunfire from special forces above and security forces below.

The special forces began clearing the top floors amid a burst of gunfire and grenade blasts. There was a two-hour lull in the fighting which then continued into the early hours of Sunday till all the militants were shot dead.

‘Please rescue us’

Terrified guests trapped inside the five-storey hotel ran out, hid themselves, or used bed-sheet ropes to  escape as gunmen fired indiscriminately, threw grenades and set fire to a kitchen on the third floor.

A guest hiding in a room on the second floor told AFP he could hear gunfire from somewhere near the first floor.

“We are hiding in our rooms. I beg the security forces to rescue us as soon as possible before they reach and kill us,” the man said without identifying himself.

His phone was switched off when AFP tried to contact him again.

The international hotel, heavily protected like most public buildings in the city, was targeted on 28 June, 2011, which left at least 21 people dead, including all nine attackers. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.

The hotel serves as a meeting point for Kabul’s elite and caters to many international guests.