Afghan special forces have ended a siege at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, leaving at least five civilians dead in an attack claimed by the Taliban armed group, a government official has told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said the siege was declared over following 16 hours of fighting.
“Officials are inside [the hotel] now to conduct their investigations and to assess whether they will find any more casualties,” she said.
“We know the fighting went room-to-room, we know that many guests spent terrifying hours overnight hiding in their rooms as the gunmen moved through the hotel.”
The hotel’s some 200 rooms had all been booked out for Saturday evening, Glasse said.
Six people were wounded in the attack, while 153 others, including 41 foreigners, were evacuated, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
“We recovered the bodies of at least four attackers as a clearance operation is ongoing in the building,” he told Al Jazeera.
Four gunmen stormed the heavily-guarded hotel located on a hilltop in the Bagh-e Bala area late on Saturday setting off a gun battle with security forces that continued into Sunday morning.
Karim has been waiting outside the hotel since the attack started and witnessed the seige through Sunday morning. He said many people were held hostage and the number of people killed might be more than what the government officials were stating.
My son is trapped inside. I am not sure if he alive or dead,” Karim, whose son worked as a cleaner in the hotel, told Al Jazeera.
“They should at least give me his dead body if he is not alive,” the 80-year old said.
Private security firm
The Interior Ministry said a private firm assumed responsibility for the security of the hotel around three weeks ago, and were investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building that is frequented by government officials and foreigners.
At the time of the attack, at least 34 provincial officials were gathered at the hotel to participate in a conference organised by the Telecommunication Ministry.
The incident came days after the US embassy in Kabul issued a warning saying that armed groups may be planning attacks against hotels in the city.
“Kabul has been on high alert for the last few days as prominent delegations have come through the city,” said Glasse, calling the attack is a “blow” to security forces.
“The government will have a lot of questions to answer and the big question on everybody’s mind right now is ‘how did these attackers get in [to the hotel],” she said.
Saturday’s assault is the second time that the building has come under attack.
In 2011, an overnight assault by Taliban fighters and suicide bombers on the hotel ended with security forces killing the attackers and resulted in the death of at least 10 civilians.
|A 2011 image showing smoke and flames rising from the hotel after coming under attack [Reuters]|