Taliban attack on Afghan hotel leaves 18 dead, most of them foreigners

A Taliban assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan's capital killed at least 18 people, including 14 foreigners, and pinned security forces down for more than 13 hours before the last attacker was killed on Sunday.

Gunmen trap security forces; more than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, rescued

A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

A Taliban assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan's capital killed at least 18 people and pinned security forces down for more than 13 hours before the last attacker was killed on Sunday.

Fourteen foreigners and four Afghan civilians were among those killed in the siege, Afghanistan's interior ministry said.

Ministry spokesperson Najib Danish said that 11 of the foreigners killed were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline. He added that 10 others were wounded, including six security officers and four civilians.

More than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, were rescued from the hotel, Danish said.

On Sunday, Global Affairs Canada told CBC News in an email "we have no reports of any Canadian citizens being involved or affected." It said it's in contact with local authorities and ready to provide consular assistance to Canadians if needed. 

A wounded security guard receives help after being rescued from Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel on Sunday. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the the attack, which began around 9 p.m. local time Saturday at the heavily guarded luxury hotel, saying five gunmen armed with suicide vests targeted foreigners and Afghan officials.

Danish said the last attacker was killed Sunday afternoon.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to attack the hotel Thursday night but postponed the assault because there was a wedding underway and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

The attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault on the property, which is not part of the InterContinental chain of worldwide hotels.

The interior ministry said a private firm assumed responsibility for securing the hotel around three weeks ago. The ministry says it is investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building.

Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were gathered at the hotel to participate in a conference organized by the telecommunication ministry.

Six of those killed were Ukrainians, said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who added that his office was working with Afghan law enforcement agencies "to clarify the circumstances of this terrorist act."

A citizen from Kazakhstan also was among the dead at the hotel, according to Anuar Zhainakov, a spokesperson for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry.

Afghan officials said the dead included a telecommunications official from Farah province in western Afghanistan; Waheed Poyan, the newly appointed consul general to Karachi, Pakistan; and Ahmad Farzan, an employee of the High Peace Council, which facilitates peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and other opposition groups.

Explosions, fire on upper floors

A fire broke out at the hotel as the fighting raged, and the sound of explosions could be heard throughout the standoff. Live TV footage showed people trying to escape through windows on the upper stories.

Capt. Tom Gresback, spokesperson for NATO-led forces, said in a statement that Afghan forces were leading the response efforts. He said that according to initial reports, no foreign troops were hurt in the attack.

Neighbouring Pakistan condemned the "brutal terrorist attack" and called for greater co-operation against militants. Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely accuse each other of failing to combat extremists along their long and porous border.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. They have also had to contend with a growing Islamic State affiliate that has carried out a number of massive attacks in recent years.

In the northern Balkh province, insurgents burst into a home where several members of a local pro-government militia were gathered late Saturday, leading them outside and killing 18 of them, said Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy provincial police chief. Among those killed was a tribal leader who served as the local police commander, he said.

In the western Farah province, a roadside bomb killed a deputy provincial police chief and wounded four other police early Sunday, according to Gen. Mahruf Folad, the provincial police chief.

The Taliban claimed both attacks.

In the western Herat province, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying 13 civilians, killing all but one of them, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesperson for the provincial police chief. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Walizada blamed Taliban insurgents, who often plant roadside bombs to target Afghan security forces.​