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Taliban claim responsibility for deadly attack on luxury hotel in Kabul

Taliban claim responsibility for deadly attack on luxury hotel in Kabul
Credit: Rahmat Gul/AP
Smokes rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. Gunmen stormed the hotel in the Afghan capital on Saturday evening, triggering a shootout with security forces, officials said.

Taliban militants have claimed responsibility for Saturday's deadly attack on the luxury Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The assault left 18 people, most of them foreigners, dead and six others wounded.

"Fourteen foreigners were killed and four Afghans," Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish told Afghanistan's Tolo News, but he didn't specifying the nationalities of the victims. Ukrainian officials have said that at least one Ukrainian was among the dead.

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 Danish.

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

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

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, was previously targeted by Taliban insurgents almost six years ago.

On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a warning to U.S. 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."

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.

This article originally appeared on DW.com. Its content is separate from USA TODAY.

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