Kabul: Afghan forces end Intercontinental Hotel siege

Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.

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Gunfire could still be heard eight hours after the assault began

Afghan security forces say they have regained control of a luxury hotel in Kabul after it was stormed by gunmen.

At least five civilians were killed and six were injured in the siege, the interior ministry said on Sunday.

Three of the attackers have been killed, a ministry spokesman said. More than 150 guests were rescued.

The gunmen burst into the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday evening, shooting at guests and staff and detonating grenades.

No group has said it carried out the attack. But the Taliban targeted the Intercontinental hotel in 2011.

Special forces battled to secure the hotel and rescue people trapped inside, the spokesman said.

Some reports said the hotel had been hosting an IT conference attended by provincial officials at the time. One witness told Reuters news agency that the attackers had taken hostages.

The attack came just days after the US embassy in Kabul issued a warning about hotels in the city.

“We are aware of reports that extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul,” the embassy wrote in a public security alert published Thursday, though it highlighted another hotel near the international airport as a possible target.

“These groups may also be targeting public gatherings/demonstrations, government facilities, transportation, markets, and places where foreigners are known to congregate.”

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The Intercontinental Hotel is an iconic symbol of Kabul

On Saturday, a guest at the hotel told AFP news agency that people were hiding in their rooms.

“I don’t know if the attackers are inside the hotel but I can hear gunfire,” the guest said.

Another interior ministry spokesman told AFP an investigation had begun into how the attackers had breached security, which was handed over to a private company two weeks ago.

“They probably used a back door in the kitchen to enter,” he said.

The Intercontinental is a state-owned hotel which often hosts weddings, conferences and political gatherings.

The Taliban attack in 2011 killed 21 people, including nine militants.

Security has been tightened in Kabul since last May, when a huge truck bomb killed at least 150 people.

However, there have been several attacks in recent months. They include a bomb at a Shia cultural centre last month that killed more than 40 people.

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