Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel under attack

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Armed militants stormed the luxury Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital late Saturday and began shooting at guests, Afghan officials said. 

“Four attackers are inside the building,” an official at the nation’s spy agency told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said security forces had cordoned off the area and were exchanging fire with the assailants, some of whom appeared to be suicide bombers. 

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“We don’t know the details yet but our forces are in the area to bring them down,” Danish said, adding that at least one of the gunmen had been killed.

Another ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, said several people had been killed and at least seven wounded.

“Some other guests have been rescued. We will be able to release casualty figures once the operation ends,” he said.

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Guests trapped

Officials said the attackers blasted their way into the hotel and set fire to the kitchen before taking up positions on the hotel’s fourth and fifth floors. One guest quoted by AFP reported hearing gunshots from his hotel room.  

“I don’t know if the attackers are inside the hotel but I can hear gunfire from somewhere near the first floor,” he said. “We are hiding in our rooms. I beg the security forces to rescue us as soon as possible before they reach and kill us.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

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Soft target

On Thursday, the US Embassy in Kabul issued a warning to US citizens, saying it was “aware of reports that extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul.” 

The Intercontinental, which is not part of the global InterContinental Hotels Group, caters to many international guests and often hosts weddings and conferences for Kabul’s elite.

DW’s correspondent in Kabul, Shadi Khan Saif, said that although it was not a top-level target, the hotel stood on a hill and had three checkpoints; so the incursion would raise security questions.

“The Intercontinental Hotel is a soft target, it’s not a secure installation, and there aren’t government or foreign offices there,” he said. “It was not an obvious target, but security around hotels is tight in Afghanistan. So it’s really a failure that terrorists have been able to enter.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Danish said authorities were investigating how the gunmen managed to get past the checkpoints. 

The hotel was also targeted in June 2011, when a suicide attack claimed by the Taliban killed 21 people, including 10 civilians.

Afghan authorities increased security in the capital in the wake of a truck bombing that ripped through the diplomatic quarter in May and killed some 150 people.

Despite efforts by the country’s security forces, attacks are frequent. More than 20 bombings and attacks in Kabul alone in 2017 left around 500 people dead and scores more injured. 

nm/rc (AFP, Reuters)