6:15 am, 06/29/11 - Today, details of the assault are beginning to come into focus, though there are still conflicting reports. The New York Times says eight suicide bombers were behind the attack, with five blowing themselves up and three being gunned down by NATO helicopter gunships. The Times adds that the attack killed at least eleven people--all Afghans--including three police officers. Reuters reports that nine militants killed eight Afghan civilians and police and one foreigner, a Spanish civil aviation pilot.
7:15 - Afghanistan's interior minister now says that over four hours after the attack began, NATO helicopters and Afghan forces working their way up to the roof floor by floor have killed all six assailants, though there's a chance one is still hiding. The numbers of attackers and how they died varies by the news source, but overall it appears the attack was carried out by heavily armed militants who either blew themselves up or were killed by NATO or Afghan police. We have no confirmation of casualties, but an unnamed U.S. official tells CNN that at least 10 people were killed. There is no evidence so far that U.S. military or diplomatic personnel were at the hotel.
6:45 - There are reports on Twitter that part of the hotel is now on fire. The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders reflects, "Something somewhat more than a simple terror attack seems to be taking place in Kabul tonight."
6:30 - Our update at 5:41 that the situation was stabilizing appears to have been premature. Reuters is now reporting that NATO forces have moved into the scene in helicopters, firing on and killing three attackers on the hotel's roof
6:21 - Here's a consequence of the attack you might not expect. NBC New York reports that the NYPD, in response to today's incident, is increasing its counterterrorism coverage of New York City hotels during the summer tourism season as a "precaution and not as a result of any specific threat."
6:05 - We mentioned below that the Intercontinental was fortified, but we didn't realize how fortified. Check out this description from The Christian Science Monitor: "The approach up the hotel's long driveway involves zigzagging around concrete barriers, then stopping midway up. Usually, passengers exit the vehicle while police do a sweep of it and pat down the passengers. At the hotel entrance, another security check is done that involves x-ray scanners and a full patdown." What's more, roadblocks and checkpoints are usually set up in Kabul in the evening, making a nighttime attack that much harder. So what does all this mean? Either the attackers had inside help, as Andrea Mitchell suggests below, or, as The Guardian writes, the attack is an embarrassment for the "Afghan government as it prepares to take responsibility for security."
5:55 - NBC is quoting a U.S. official as saying there are no indications that any U.S. military or civilian personnel were injured or killed in Kabul hotel attack. Indeed, Germany's Der Spiegel has spoken to an eyewitness who saw the U.S. ambassador's convoy leaving the hotel before the attack, perhaps indicating that the attackers waited until the ambassador had departed before attacking the Afghan governors who were reportedly at the hotel for the transition conference. Der Spiegel hasn't yet confirmed the U.S. ambassador's presence.
5:41 - The situation appears to be stabilizing. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, citing Kabul's police chief, reports that Afghan forces have entered the hotel and embarked on a search operation, and that all hotel guests are safe.
5:32 - Nick Schifrin of ABC News tweets an account from a survivor of the attack, who "describes bloody scene akin to Mumbai attack. 3 of his colleagues killed. He saw 3 attackers, 1 w 15+ RPG rounds."
5:20 - Kabul-based journalists Bette Dam and Erin Cunninham report one of the bizarre dimensions to this story: At one point during the firefight, the assailants appeared to be launching RPGs from the roof of the hotel toward the nearby house of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, one of Afghanistan's vice presidents.
5:00 - Getty has an incredible shot of tracer bullets being fired from the hotel (it's so dark because the electricity supply of the hotel and surrounding area has been cut):
4:55 - As the explosions and gunfire quiet down, there are conflicting reports about whether a conference on transitioning security from international to Afghan forces, set to begin on Wednesday, was taking place at the hotel. CNN and a Taliban spokesman suggest that events related to the conference were occurring at the Intercontinental, but Reuters, citing an Afghan official, reports that the "hotel was not one of the venues to be used by the conference or its delegates." Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith says conference attendees were staying at the hotel. Afghan officials tell the BBC that "a group of Afghan governors had been meeting at the hotel at the time of the attack."
4:31 - The AP has raw video of the scene near the hotel:
4:20 - This is a serious firefight. The Journal's Maria Abi-Habib tweets that she saw "several volleys" of rocket-propelled grenade fire and gunfire "ringing in the air" near the hotel while at least 200 police swarmed the premises.
4:15 - The AP has the first photos from the bombing. In this photo, an Afghan security officer directs cars near the hotel:
4:12 - According to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, top U.S. officials are currently being briefed on the bombing, which Mitchell says was probably an "inside job." She adds that there are "no known Americans among possible 12 dead."
4:00 - The New York Times has dueling statements from Afghan police and the Taliban. A police general says "all the Afghan forces are near and around the hotel and the fighting is still going on and we are trying to kill them." Meanwhile, Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman referenced below, says his fighters have "gone through several stories of the building and they are breaking into each room and they are targeting the 300 Afghans and foreigners who are staying."
3:52 - There appears to be some validity to the Taliban's claim that the hotel was hosting security talks at the time of the assault. According to CNN, "a news conference was scheduled to take place Wednesday in the hotel to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces." On the subject of security, journalist Simon Klingert writes, "The attack on the InterConti in Kabul underscores that insurgents definitely aim to bring the war into the city and the media this year."
3:41 - Reuters says two suicide bombers attacked the hotel, but it's important to note that the number of assailants, the nature of the attack, and the number of causalities is currently being reported differently by different outlets. Afghan police say a wedding party was underway when the attack occurred. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, speaking to Reuters from an undisclosed location, said several of his fighters attacked the hotel, where Afghan and Western officials were allegedly holding security talks, inflicting heavy casualties. As Reuters points out, however, "the Taliban often exaggerate the number of casualties in attacks against Western and Afghan government targets."
3:30 - As we wait for updates, we're getting some background on the hotel and why the attack is significant. Journalist Matthieu Aikins notes that the heavily fortified hotel, which sits on a hill in western Kabul, is a "haunt of expats and Afghan elite" while Najafizada adds that provincial governors were staying in the hotel in recent days for a conference. A guest tells the AP that the attack began when many people were having dinner in the hotel's restaurant, and that he'd heard gunfire throughout the building. "This was a well planned attack," writes the BBC's Bilal Sarwary. "Terrorists change of tactic, attack during night, surprised everyone" (the attack took place around 10 pm). Najafizada, meanwhile, is still hearing machine gun fire despite reports that the situation is under control.
3:15 - According to CNN, fighting is ongoing between the suicide bombers and Afghan security forces and journalist Bette Dam says "truckloads of afghan police/special forces" are rushing to the hotel. But Najafizada, who first broke the news, claims the "situation [is] under control" according to Kabul police. Details are still fuzzy, especially since the streets leading to the hotel are blocked.
Original Post (3:10 pm)
Twitter is currently full of reports of an attack on the five-star Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul (shown above). The first person to report the news was Lotfullah Najafizada of Afghanistan's TOLOnews, who tweeted that the establishment was under attack a little before 2:30 pm EST. He's since reported, citing Afghan police, that six suicide bombers stormed the hotel, killing ten so far amidst persistent gunfire. An Afghan official also tells The Wall Street Journal's Maria Abi-Habib that the hotel is under a "huge" attack, while the Associated Press is reporting that the Taliban has claimed responsibility in a phone call to the AP.
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