NATO helicopters fired rockets at gunmen on the rooftop of a besieged Kabul hotel early today, ending a more than four-hour standoff between militants and police that left at least seven dead and eight others wounded, Afghan officials said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said six suicide bombers had attacked the Inter-Continental hotel frequented by Afghan officials and foreign visitors. He said two were killed by hotel guards at the beginning of the attack and four others blew themselves up or were killed -- in the airstrike or by Afghan security forces.
The seven dead do not include the attackers.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the rare, nighttime attack in the capital -- an apparent attempt to show that they remain potent despite heavy pressure from coalition and Afghan security forces.
The attackers were heavily armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and grenade launchers, the Afghan officials said. Afghan police rushed to the scene, and firefights broke out. They battled for hours with gunmen who took up positions on the roof.
Some Afghan provincial officials were among the 60 to 70 guests staying in the hotel.
They included Abdul Zahir Faizada, head of the local council in Herat, a province in western Afghanistan. He planned to attend a conference in Kabul today to discuss plans for Afghan security forces to take the lead for securing an increasing number of areas of the country by 2014 when international forces are expected to move out of combat roles. Afghans from across the country were in the city for the conference.
"We were locked in a room. Everybody was shooting and firing," said Faizada who was accompanied by the mayor of Herat city and other officials from the province. "I heard a lot of shooting."
Daoud Amin, deputy police chief in Kabul, said seven people, excluding the attackers, died in the attack and eight other people -- two policemen and six civilians -- were wounded.
Nazar Ali Wahedi, chief of intelligence for Helmand, a province in the south, called the assailants "the enemy of stability and peace" in Afghanistan.
In a telephone call to the AP, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, then 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.' "
The Taliban often exaggerate casualties from their attacks.