WATCH: Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul overnight on June 28-29, killing at least 12 people before being killed by Afghan and international security forces.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says a brazen overnight attack on a landmark Kabul hotel will not derail plans for the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
Twenty-one people are now known to have died in the hours-long attack -- claimed by the Taliban -- on the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul.
The dead include Afghan civilians, policemen, a Spanish airline pilot, and all nine attackers.
Karzai's office "condemned in the strongest terms" the attack as a "ruthless act of terror." In the same statement, the perpetrators are described as "mercenary terrorists who enjoy bloodletting of the innocent human beings."
Karzai himself is quoted as saying that "no such attacks can stand in our way to implement the transition process."
The transfer of security from international forces is to begin in seven areas of Afghanistan in the coming weeks, following an announcement
last week by U.S. President Barack Obama.
An Afghan soldier aims his gun as he guards the area surrounding the Hotel Inter-Continental during the deadly attack by Taliban insurgents.
Armed with rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, and explosive suicide vests, the attackers stormed the heavily guarded hilltop hotel in western Kabul late at night.
Hotel employees and guests say the attackers played Taliban songs on tape recorders and shot anyone they saw as they stormed the multistory building.
Some guests reportedly jumped from the second and third floors to escape the onslaught.
Private security guard Mohamamd Ibrahim was waiting for his boss in a car outside the hotel when he heard gunshots.
He told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he saw a man carrying a heavy machine gun chasing one of the hotel guards into the main building. But just as the man was entering the building, he turned back and opened fire on people outside.
"I saw with my eyes that he turned back and fired on the people outside," Ibrahim said. "I don't know if they were injured, whether they died or survived. I saw a traffic police officer and two civilian taxi drivers getting hit."
Another local resident described the attack to Reuters as "a huge blast...inside the hotel" at around 10:30 p.m. local time. He then heard "gunfire and blasts" and described residents fearing the worst until the siege ended after daybreak.
The five-hour long attack ended with early morning NATO helicopter raids killing what were thought to be the last of the insurgents, on the hotel's rooftop.
Afghan officials claim that all nine suicide bombers and gunmen were killed by early morning.
Thirteen civilians and five policemen were injured, according to an Interior Ministry statement.
Kabul police chief Ayoub Salangi told reporters that they were searching the hotel room by room.
Latifullah Mashal, the spokesman of the Afghan National Directorate for Security, acknowledged to reporters in Kabul that there had been a security lapse.
"There is no doubt that there was a [security] failure and the attackers were helped from inside," Mashal said. "Our investigation will determine where the problem was exactly. Was there a lapse in the response of the security forces or something else? Also, in one part of the hotel renovation work was going on. It is possible that these attackers infiltrated into the hotel posing as laborers, masons, or painters."
The Inter-Continental is popular with foreigners and a venue for conferences and weddings. It formerly was part of the InterContinental Hotels Group but has had no association with the group since 1979.
The attack is the latest targeting hotels and supermarkets frequented by foreigners. While Kabul has been peaceful compared to the rest of Afghanistan, high-profile attacks are meant to showcase the Taliban ability to strike at will.
The attack came on the eve of a conference in Kabul about transferring responsibility for security from international to
Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
written by Abubakar Siddique based on RFE/RL and agency reports