Taliban militants have claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack on the luxury Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul that left at least six people, including a foreigner, dead and six others wounded.

Authorities rescued 153 people, including more than 40 foreigners, from the building during a gun battle with the attackers that lasted more than 13 hours, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish.

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Danish told Afghanistan’s Tolo News several hours later that all four attackers had been killed and that the attack was now over.

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Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul

It’s not the first time Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel has been hit by an attack

Guests trapped

Officials said the attackers blasted their way into the hotel at 9 p.m. local time (1630 UTC) and set fire to the kitchen before taking up positions on the hotel’s fourth and fifth floors.

One guest quoted by the Agence France-Presse news agency 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.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying five of its gunmen, armed with suicide vests, had entered the hotel.

The luxury hotel, which is popular with foreigners and locals alike, was previously targeted by Taliban insurgents almost six years ago.

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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. 

Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Sunday, a roadside bomb killed at least 13 civilians in the western Herat province.

The attack was quickly blamed on the Taliban, which often targets Afghan security forces at the roadside.

mm,amp/jlw (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)