Los Angeles Times: Afghan hotel attacked
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan— A team of gunmen and suicide bombers struck a landmark hotel in the Afghan capital on Tuesday evening, police said, the latest in a series of attacks that underscore the insurgents' ability to penetrate even Kabul's most heavily guarded installations.
It was not immediately known how many people were killed or wounded.
The sound of gunfire and explosions echoed past midnight across the city's western edge, where the Intercontinental Hotel perches on a hilltop, visible from a considerable distance. It is approached by a winding road punctuated by police checkpoints.
The unusual nighttime strike was the most high-profile attack in some months inside Kabul. The hotel has a large foreign clientele and is frequently a venue for official conferences and events.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an emailed statement. However, many strikes in the capital have been carried out by the Haqqani network, a Taliban offshoot that operates mainly in the eastern part of the country.
The head of criminal investigation for the Kabul police, Gen. Mohammed Zahir, said it was believed that up to six attackers had managed to make their way into the hotel, and at least one was thought to have detonated a vest laden with explosives.
Police sealed off streets leading to the scene, and helicopters could be heard overhead. The five-story building was plunged into darkness as either the attackers or the authorities cut off the power. Some patrons had been dining in the hotel restaurant when the attack began, according to witnesses quoted in Afghan media accounts.
Kabul has only a few four- and five-star hotels, and all are tightly secured. A luxury hotel popular with foreigners, the Serena, was the target of a 2008 strike that left eight people dead.
The Intercontinental, which opened in the late 1960s, has mirrored Kabul's fortunes. It was a symbol of the cosmopolitan lifestyle that briefly flourished in the Afghan capital in the 1970s, and then was battered by fighting during the civil war in the early- to mid-1990s.
After the Taliban takeover in 1996, the fundamentalist movement targeted its still-considerable liquor stocks. Following the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, foreign journalists were its primary customers. The hallways reeked because of the lack of running water in most rooms.
Although shabbier now than in its heyday, the hotel still draws a clientele consisting mainly of expatriates and the Afghan elite. International groups have sometimes used it as a headquarters, including large numbers of election monitors who ensconced themselves during the contentious 2009 presidential elections.
Kabul is considered one of the more secure parts of the country, but attackers in April struck the Defense Ministry and in May hit the country's largest military hospital. Insurgents have stepped up a campaign of violence in advance of a planned transfer of seven areas around the country from Western to Afghan security control.