Gunmen attack Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel, official says, injuries and deaths reported

KABUL, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Gunmen attacked Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, seizing hostages and exchanging gunfire with security forces as the building in the Afghan capital caught fire and residents and staff fled.

Hotel manager Ahmad Haris Nayab, who escaped unhurt, said the attackers had got into the main part of the hotel through a kitchen and people tried to get out amid bursts of gunfire.

Several people had been killed and at least six wounded in the raid, which came days after a U.S. embassy warning of possible attacks on hotels in Kabul, Nasrat Rahimi, an interior ministry spokesman, said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest in a long series of attacks which underlined the city's precarious situation and the ability of militants to strike blows to undermine confidence in the Western-backed government.

Officials said there were as many as four attackers and at least two of them had been killed as Afghan Special Forces cleared the first floor and moved to the second, battling the raiders, who appeared to have a large supply of hand grenades.

According to one witness, who did not want to be named, the attackers took some hotel staff and guests hostage.

RELATED: Gunmen attack top Kabul hotel, take hostages

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A member of the Afghan security forces keeps watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
A member of the Afghan security forces arrives the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
A member of the Afghan security forces keeps watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan security forces arrive the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
An Afghan policeman keeps watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
An Afghan policeman keeps watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
An Afghan security force keeps watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan security force keep watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan security force keep watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
The Intercontinental Hotel is seen during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
The Intercontinental Hotel is seen during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
The Intercontinental Hotel is seen during attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
The Intercontinental Hotel is seen burnt during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan policemen keep watch close to the entrance gate of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan. January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan policemen keep watch close to the entrance gate of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan. January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
A wounded security guard receives help after being rescued from Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
An Afghan security force personnel keeps watch close to the entrance gate of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan. January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
People escape during an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan security forces leave from the site of an incident after gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan security forces leave from the site of an incident after gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan women and child walk by ambulances during an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan journalists take cover as they film the site of an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
People look at the site where gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan security forces are seen at the roof top of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul,�fghanistan�anuary 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan security forces keep watch as smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul,�fghanistan�anuary 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
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The Intercontinental Hotel, located on a hilltop and heavily protected like most public buildings in Kabul, was previously attacked by Taliban fighters in 2011.

It is one of two main luxury hotels in the city and had been due to host an information technology conference on Sunday. More than 100 IT managers and engineers were on site when the attack took place, Ahmad Waheed, an official at the telecommunications ministry, said.

 

U.S. WARNING

Many details of the incident were still unclear, but Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said a private company had taken over security about three weeks ago.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul had issued a warning to U.S. citizens on Thursday, saying "We are aware of reports that extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul."

The State Department said it was monitoring the situation and was in contact with Afghan authorities to determine whether any U.S. citizens had been affected.

Captain Tom Gresback, spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan said they were also watching closely. "Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are leading the response efforts. According to initial reports, no Resolute Support or (U.S. forces) members were injured in this incident," he said in an emailed statement.

Although the NATO-led Resolute Support mission says the Taliban has come under pressure after the United States increased assistance to Afghan security forces and stepped up air strikes against insurgents, security remains precarious.

As pressure on the battlefield has increased, security officials have warned that the danger of attacks on high profile targets in Kabul and other cities would increase.

After repeated attacks in Kabul, notably an incident last May in which a truck bomber killed at least 150 people outside the German embassy, security has been further tightened.

While it shares the same name, the hotel in Kabul is not part of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which issued a statement in 2011 saying that "the hotel Inter-continental in Kabul is not part of IHG and has not been since 1980." (Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Alexander Smith)

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