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Kabul hotel guests recall siege

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A man escapes from a balcony at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen. Reuters

KABUL (Agencies) – As gunmen went on a night-time rampage through Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, Aziz Tayeb posted a desperate plea on Facebook: “Pray for me. I may die.”

The telecom executive hid behind a pillar as four heavily-armed attackers stormed the luxury hotel and began spraying terrified guests and staff with bullets.The Taliban claimed responsibility.

At least six people were killed, including a foreigner, and eight wounded in the 12-hour ordeal as the attackers engaged in a fierce gunfight with Afghan security forces. The raid came just days after a US embassy warning of possible attacks on hotels in Kabul.

“I saw people who were enjoying themselves a second ago screaming and fleeing like crazy, and some of them falling down, hit by bullets,” Mr Tayeb said yesterday.

One colleague, who had been stuck on the fifth floor of the six-storey building throughout the attack, told Mr Tayeb that some areas of the hotel resembled a butcher’s shop with blood everywhere.

The attackers were eventually killed. It is unclear exactly how many gunmen were involved. Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said three gunmen were killed, while witnesses said four were involved and the Taliban said five.

Mr Tayeb, a regional director for Afghan Telecom in the western city of Herat, was staying at the hilltop hotel – not part of the global InterContinental chain – with dozens of industry colleagues from around the country ahead of an annual conference due to begin yesterday.

The gunmen shot at people who had been enjoying dinner in one of the hotel restaurants before breaking into guest rooms and taking dozens of hostages including foreigners, witnesses said.

Hotel manager Ahmad Haris Nayab, who escaped unhurt, said the attackers had got into the main part of the hotel through a kitchen before going through the hotel, with many guests trapped in their rooms.

Mr Tayeb and a few friends managed to escape to the hotel’s outdoor pool area where they hid, listening to the horrifying attack metres away.

“I could repeatedly hear blasts one after another, hand grenades, they used many grenades,” he said, his voice heavy with exhaustion.

“We contacted security officials who arrived an hour later and as we were being escorted out I saw five or six bodies outside the hotel. The second, third and fifth floors were on fire – the fifth floor was engulfed in flames.”

Once he was a safe distance from the hotel, Mr Tayeb called his colleagues still trapped inside the burning building. “Some were crying that they would die of smoke inhalation,” he said.

Dramatic television footage from Afghanistan’s Tolo News showed people trapped on balconies at the top of the building climbing down bedsheets to escape.

“When the sixth floor caught fire this morning, my roommate told me, either burn or escape,” said Mohammad Musa, who was hiding in his room on the top floor when he heard gunfire. “I got a bed sheet and tied it to the balcony. I tried to come down but I was heavy and my arms were not strong enough. I fell down and injured my shoulder and leg.”

Abdul Rahman Naseri, a guest who was at the hotel, was in the hall when he saw four insurgents dressed in army uniforms.

“They were shouting in Pashto (language), ‘Don’t leave any of them alive, good or bad. Shoot and kill them all,’ one of them shouted,” Mr Naseri said. “I ran to my room on the second floor. I opened the window and tried to get out using a tree but the branch broke and I fell to the ground. I hurt my back and broke a leg.”

A witness said that the hotel’s security team fled “without a fight”, leaving guests to their fate.

“They didn’t attack. They didn’t do anything to them. They had no experience,” said the 24-year-old man, a hotel employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He ran from the hotel with some of them, he said. “I was asking them, where should I go?”

Mr Danish said a private company had taken over security of the hotel about three weeks ago.

As he waited for news of his colleagues, Mr Tayeb updated his Facebook status to thank his friends for their prayers.

“Staying alive in this country is a mere coincidence,” he wrote, before making another plea.

“More than a 100 of my colleagues and friends are caught between life and death. Please pray for them.”

It was too late for one: the interior ministry confirmed at least one person involved in the conference was among the dead.

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