Taliban attack on landmark Kabul hotel kills 10, plus 'six to eight' attackers
Afghan police are carrying an extensive search of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel after a brazen Taliban attack that left at least 10 people dead and eight others wounded.
An estimated six to eight attackers were also reportedly killed, with officials saying all of the perpetrators had died.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has "condemned in the strongest terms" the attack as a "ruthless act of terror." In his statement, he described the perpetrators as "mercenary terrorists who enjoy bloodletting of the innocent human beings."
The Taliban were quick to claim responsibility. As the attack unfolded, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told several news agencies that its fighters were behind the siege.
The five-hour ordeal ended with early morning NATO helicopter raids killing at least two insurgents on the hotel's rooftop.
Armed with rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, and explosive suicide vests, the attackers stormed the heavily guarded hilltop hotel -- which is favored by Westerners and diplomats -- in western Kabul late in the evening.
Kabul police chief Ayoub Salangi told reporters that they were searching the hotel room by room as part of a possible mop-up operation.
"At 2:00 this morning the insurgent attack finished," Salangi said, adding that the army hadn't suffered any casualties.
Hotel employees and guests say the attackers played Taliban songs on tape recorders and shot anyone they saw as they stormed the multistory building.
Some guests reportedly jumped from the second and third floors to escape.
The security forces' response to the raid was reportedly marked by initial confusion as guests and visitors ran for their lives.
A local resident described to Reuters hearing "a huge blast" from inside the hotel, followed by gunfire and further blasts.
"When I walked out right after prayers, I saw the Intercontinental on fire," another resident, Ahmad, told the agency. "The enemies of Afghanistan burned the only Intercontinental Hotel we have in the city. Those who fired at this hotel are not Afghans. I was watching it burning."
The Intercontinental is popular with foreigners and a venue for conferences and weddings.
The attack follows the pattern of attacks on hotels and supermarkets frequented by foreigners. While Kabul has been peaceful compared to the rest of Afghanistan, high-profile attacks are meant to showcase the Taliban ability to strike at will as NATO troops begin to withdraw and hand over security responsibilities to the Afghans.
"The investigations have begun and are continuing," Interior Ministry spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan. "Without a doubt the terrorists will attempt to attack such important places. They want to target senior [Afghan] officials and foreigners."
Taliban spokesman Mujahid claimed that heavy casualties had been inflicted. The Taliban often exaggerate the number of casualties in attacks against Western and Afghan government targets.
compiled from RFE/RL and agency reports