About the same time, Maulvi Mohammed Orsaji, head of the Takhar Provincial Council, was dining with a judge in the hotel’s formal dining room when several other gunmen entered and started shooting. Both officials were visiting Kabul for a governors’ conference that was scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
“I got down and hid behind a pillar, and I stayed there for the next five hours,” the shaken elderly cleric recounted Wednesday morning. “There was shooting and explosions. By the time it was over, both my guard and my friend, the judge, were dead.”
“I was a fighter in the [anti-Soviet] jihad when I was young,” Orsaji said. “But I never saw such a wild kind of attack in my life.”
The siege of the Intercontinental by a squad of Taliban suicide bombers and heavily armed gunmen was one of the most sophisticated and audacious attacks in the Afghan capital in years. It took the lives of 11 civilians, including hotel staff and visitors, and wounded a dozen more, officials said.
Eight assailants were killed, officials said. Some are thought to have blown themselves up as part of the attack, while others were shot inside the hotel or on its grounds. The last two assailants were killed by NATO helicopter gunships on the roof shortly before dawn, officials said.
The national intelligence police said no foreigners were among the civilian dead, but other officials offered conflicting information. The Interior Ministry said a Spaniard was slain, and police officials said a pilot from Turkey and a visitor from France had been killed.
The U.S. Embassy said that a number of Americans had been dining or staying at the hotel but that all were accounted for. The Canadian Embassy said reports of a Canadian diplomat’s death were untrue.
The assault shattered all semblance of security in Kabul at a critical time. President Obama recently announced a gradual withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and the government of President Hamid Karzai is preparing to assume full responsibility for security by 2014.
Kabul is one of seven cities or regions slated for an early transition to Afghan defense leadership, beginning next month. Officials said the Taliban attack was clearly intended to sabotage the transition and prove that Afghan forces cannot protect the general population, but they vowed not to allow the insurgents to derail the turnover.
“The enemy failed to carry out their plan because they were all killed and there was no major cost to civilian life,” Lutfullah Mashal, spokesman for the national intelligence police, said in a news conference. “They want to undermine things in the seven areas of transition. . . . We say to them that we Afghans have the ability to stop terrorist attacks and we will.”