January 21, 2018
ISLAMABAD — Afghan commando forces have ended an overnight siege at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel that resulted in the deaths of at least 18 people, including 14 foreign nationals.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed the death toll on Sunday for attack that began late Saturday on the Intercontinental hotel in the Afghan capital.
KAM airline says 10 of its staff were killed in the militant raid, including five pilots, and 14 other employees are missing.
Two Venezuelans and a number of Ukrainians are reported to be among the victims.
The siege lasted nearly 14 hours during which all five assailants either blew themselves up or were gunned down by Afghan forces.
Interior Ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, told VOA the last surviving attacker blew himself up before midday Sunday, setting ablaze the sixth floor where he had been holed up.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed the newly appointed Afghan Consul General to the Pakistani port city of Karachi was among those killed in the hotel attack.
Rahimi said more than 161 guests, including 41 foreigners, were rescued.
Security forces went “room-by-room” before formally declaring the building cleared of suspects, he added.
International forces reportedly assisted Afghan partners in dealing with the attack.
Conflicting casualty reports
The Taliban insurgency claimed five of its suicide bombers carried out the assault, which they said targeted a meeting of Afghan and American security officials, inflicting heavy casualties on them. The Taliban often inflates its casualty claims.
Some Afghan journalists who visited the site of the attack Sunday reported via social media they saw dozens of bodies inside the hotel. The largest Afghan television, TOLOnews, quoted “credible security sources” as telling the station the attack left at least 43 people dead.
Officials have not yet commented on these claims.
The siege began when gunmen wearing army uniforms and suicide vests stormed the hotel kitchen. They then moved into conference halls and other floors of the building, while shooting at guests.
An Interior Ministry statement claimed the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network of terrorists plotted the violence.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Ambassador to Kabul John Bass have condemned the attack in separate statements. Ghani has assigned a special team to probe the incident.
“Such violence has no place here or anywhere in the world. The U.S. Embassy is in close contact with Afghan authorities, who are continuing to investigate the incident,” an embassy statement quoted Bass as saying.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan condemned its as “egregious attack”, saying it may amount to war crimes.
“It is a moral outrage that the Taliban entered the hotel with the intention of killing civilians,” said UNAMA chief, Tadamichi Yamamoto
Afghan and U.S. officials have long alleged Haqqanis operate out of sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan. Islamabad denies the charges.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry condemned the hotel siege as a “brutal terrorist attack.”
“The government and the people of Pakistan convey solidarity and support with the government and people of Afghanistan at this dastardly terrorist attack. We convey our deepest sympathies for those who have lost their loved ones,” the ministry said in a statement issued Sunday.
The American Embassy in Afghanistan had issued a security alert on January 18 about potential hotel attacks. “We are aware of reports that extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul,” the alert said. It also advised people to “keep a low profile… carry a charged cell phone…” and “stay alert in locations frequented by tourists/Westerners.”
The Intercontinental hotel sits at the top of a Kabul hill and is heavily guarded because it has come under attack before. It was the target of a suicide assault in 2011 that killed at least 20 people. The Taliban also took responsibility for that attack.
Meanwhile, officials in northern province of Balkh confirmed to VOA Sunday an overnight Taliban ambush killed at least 16 pro-government troops.
Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed the insurgent group carried out the attack, saying a Taliban sympathizer among the Afghan forces had facilitated the attack. Mujahid a Taliban fighter was killed in the clash.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb blast early Sunday killed at least eight Afghan civilians in the western province of Herat.