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Kabul hotel attack leaves 19 Afghans dead

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After hours of fighting, two NATO helicopters opened fire at about 3 a.m. on the roof of the six-story hotel where militants had taken up positions. U.S. Army Maj. Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said the helicopters killed three gunmen and Afghan security forces clearing the hotel engaged the insurgents as they worked their way up to the roof.

(Photo: Associated Press)

A final explosion occurred a few hours later when one of the bombers who had been hiding in a room blew himself up long after ambulances had carried the dead and wounded from the hotel, according to Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the coalition and Karzai all condemned the attack.

The militants are "enjoying the killing of innocent people," Karzai said in a statement.

"Such incidents will not stop us for transitioning security of our country" to Afghan forces, Karzai said.

U.S. Rear Adm. Vic Beck, director of public relations for the international military coalition, said Afghan security forces responded quickly and professionally to the scene — even though NATO helicopters were later called in to attack militants on the roof of the hotel. NATO said coalition mentors also were partnered with some of the units involved in the incident.

"This attack will do nothing to prevent the security transition process from moving forward," Beck said.

Afghan police were the first to respond to the attack, prompting firefights that resounded across the capital. A few hours later, an Afghan National Army commando unit arrived to help.

"We were locked in a room. Everybody was shooting and firing," said Abdul Zahir Faizada, head of the local council in Herat province in western Afghanistan, who was in town to attend the conference. "I heard a lot of shooting."

Jawid, a guest at the hotel who only gave one name, said he jumped out a one-story window to flee the shooting.

"I was running with my family," he said. "There was shooting. The restaurant was full with guests."

Latifullah Mashal, the spokesman of the Afghan National Directorate for Security, said five of the suicide attackers blew themselves up and three were killed on the roof by coalition helicopters.

The 11 civilians killed included a judge from an unnamed province, five hotel workers and three Afghan policemen, Mashal said. The Ministry of Interior said a Spanish citizen also was among those killed, but no other information was disclosed.

The ministry said 18 people were wounded in the attack — 13 civilians and five policemen.

Nazar Ali Wahedi, chief of intelligence for Helmand province in the south, called the assailants "the enemy of stability and peace" in Afghanistan.

"Our room was hit by several bullets," said Wahedi, who is attending the conference elsewhere in the capital. "We spent the whole night in our room."

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in the capital — an apparent attempt to show that they remain potent despite heavy pressure from coalition and Afghan security forces. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid later issued a statement claiming that Taliban attackers killed guards at a gate and entered the hotel.

"One of our fighters called on a mobile phone and said: 'We have gotten onto all the hotel floors and the attack is going according to the plan. We have killed and wounded 50 foreign and local enemies. We are in the corridors of the hotel now taking guests out of their rooms — mostly foreigners. We broke down the doors and took them out one by one.'"

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