Four U.S. citizens killed in Jan. 20 attack on Kabul hotel

WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Four U.S. citizens were killed and two injured in Saturday's attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.

"We can confirm that there were four U.S. citizens killed and two injured. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and wish for the speedy recovery of those wounded," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Afghan security officials met on Monday to draw up a response to a deadly attack on Kabul's Hotel Intercontinental that exposed once again how vulnerable the capital remains to militant assaults.

Even in a city long inured to violence, the attack by gunmen dressed in army uniforms has caused shock, with questions raised about how they were able to penetrate security at one of the most prominent landmarks in Kabul.

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Americans killed in deadly Kabul attack
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Americans killed in deadly Kabul attack
Afghan security force keep watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 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
An Afghan policeman keeps watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
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
Afghan security forces arrive 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
The Intercontinental Hotel is seen during attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan security forces are seen at the roof top of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul,�fghanistan�anuary 21, 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
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
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
Smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel during an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan January 21, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan security forces keep watch as smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul,�fghanistan�anuary 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN-JANUARY 21: Smoke billows from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack by armed gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan, 21 January 2018. On 20 January a group of armed insurgents attacked Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel, a luxury establishment frequently visited by foreigners. Haroon Sabawoon/ Anadolu Agency (Photo by Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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The smoke-blackened hotel, on a hill overlooking the city, remained blocked off on Monday and even the final casualty toll from the attack, which began on Saturday night and was claimed by Taliban insurgents, remains unclear.

Officially, the government says at least 19 people were killed but people in the security system say the real figure is certainly above 30 and probably many more. The Taliban are seeking to re-impose Islamic rule after their 2001 ouster at the hands of U.S.-led troops.

Many of the victims were Ukrainian air crew of Kam Air and their deaths may raise questions over the willingness of foreign technical specialists to continue to work for Afghan companies who cannot provide the high levels of security provided by the United Nations or foreign embassies.

Airlines provide a vital link between major cities in a country where travel by road is often dangerous and unreliable.

"Many Ukrainian air technicians work in Afghanistan and all those killed worked for the Afghan airline Kam Air and lived in the Intercontinental Hotel," Ukraine's Ambassador to Afghanistan, Viktor Nikityuk, who is based in neighboring Tajikistan, told Ukrainian television.

He confirmed that seven Ukrainians had been killed and said a consular official would be visiting Kabul to organize repatriation of their bodies.

Many details of what happened in the attack, which began at around 9 p.m. on Saturday, remain unclear and interest is likely to focus on the private security company which took over protection duties three weeks ago.

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The past 16 years at war in Afghanistan
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The past 16 years at war in Afghanistan
The United States and Britain on October 7, 2001 launched a first wave of air strikes against Afghanistan and President George W. Bush said the action heralded a "sustained, comprehensive and relentless" campaign against terrorism. Eyewitnesses said they saw flashes and heard explosions over the Afghan capital of Kabul in the first phase of what the United States has said will be a protracted and wide-ranging war against terrorism and the states that support it. The attack had been prepared since the September 11 suicide attacks on the United States that killed around 5,600 people. A U.S. Air force B-52 bomber drops a load of M117 750-pound bombs over a bombing range in the United States in this undated file photo.B-52s, B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers are some of the aircraft that were reportedly used in the attacks on Afghanistan. REUTERS/USAF-Handout KM/HB
Two Northern Alliance soldiers watch as the dust and smoke rises after explosions in Taliban positions on Kalakata hill, near the village of Ai-Khanum in northern Afghanistan, November 1, 2001. The Pentagon said on Wednesday B-52s dropped heavy loads of bombs, a tactic known as carpet bombing, on Taliban troops north of Kabul as a result of improved tergeting intelligence, partly from U.S. special forces on the ground. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko VF/CRB
U.S. Marine PV2 Eileen M. Schnetzko stands on guard at Bagram airport, March 2, 2002. U.S. troops are based at Bagram, north of Kabul. There are some 4,000 U.S. troops based in Afghanistan as part of the international war against terrorism. REUTERS/Mario Laporta REUTERS ML
A U.S. special forces soldier (L) watches while Afghan militia wait in line to turn in their weapons at a military base in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 22, 2003. A long-awaited U.N.-sponsored project to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate 100,000 soldiers across Afghanistan was under way in the north, a key step to bringing eventual peace to this war-torn country. The "New Beginnings Programme," which lets soldiers exchange their weapons for jobs, began in the northern province of Kunduz this week. REUTERS/Richard Vogel/Pool RV KAJ/FA
A Chinook helicopter hovers over U.S. troops in the village of Jegdelic, about 90 km (56 miles) southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, in this picture taken on December 24, 2004. A U.S. military helicopter carrying up to 20 American troops crashed during an anti-guerrilla mission in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, U.S. officials said. The fate of those on board was not immediately known. Picture taken December 24, 2004. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood Am/mk BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
An Afghan boy looks at U.S. soldiers as they patrol a village near the town of Makkor, southwest of Kabul April 20, 2007. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (AFGHANISTAN)
A U.S. soldier works with a shovel as a vehicle is stuck in mud, some 70km south of Ghazni, southeastern Afghanistan April 23, 2007. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (AFGHANISTAN)
British and a U.S. soldiers control the crowd during medical assistance in Kabul February 26, 2008. U.S. and British troops provided medical assistance worth of $50,000 to the Afghan locals in Kabul on Tuesday. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood (AFGHANISTAN)
Sgt. William Olas Bee, a U.S. Marine from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, has a close call after Taliban fighters opened fire near Garmsir in Helmand Province of Afghanistan, May 18, 2008. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (AFGHANISTAN)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) and U.S. Army General David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan (R) listen to Afghan governors and local officials during their visit to Forward Operating Base Airborne in the mountains of Wardak Province, Afghanistan, May 8, 2009. Gates on May 11, 2009 replaced the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General David McKiernan, less than a year after he took over the war effort there. Gates said he asked for McKiernan's resignation and recommended Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of special operations forces, to take over command of 45,000 U.S. troops and about 32,000 other troops from non-U.S. NATO countries. REUTERS/Jason Reed (AFGHANISTAN MILITARY POLITICS)
U.S. soldiers of the 2-12 Infantry, 4th Brigade prepare to tow a broken-down improvised explosive device (IED) detecting Huskie vehicle during a patrol in the Pesh Valley in Afghanistan's Kunar Province July 30, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne (AFGHANISTAN CONFLICT)
U.S. soldiers kneel during a memorial ceremony for Captain Daniel Whitten and Private First Class Zachary Lovejoy from Charlie Company, 4th Brigade combat team,1-508, 82nd Parachute Infantry Regiment at the Remote Sweeney FOB in Zabul province, southern Afghanistan, February 8, 2010. CPT Whitten from Grimes, Iowa, and PFC Lovejoy from Albuquerque, New Mexico, were killed by an IED on February 2. when on patrol in southern Afghanistan. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT MILITARY)
Canadian soldiers play table football under flashlights at a military outpost near the village of Bazaar e Panjwaii, in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province August 8, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY)
U.S. Army medic Staff Sergeant Rahkeem Francis with Charlie Company, 6-101 Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, treats an Afghan boy with a broken leg onboard a medevac helicopter near the town of Marjah in Helmand Province, August 19, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY POLITICS)
U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY IMAGES OF THE DAY POLITICS)
An Afghan shepherd walks with a flock of sheep past a U.S. Marines armored vehicle of the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines outside the Camp Gorgak in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan July 5, 2011. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANIMALS IMAGES OF THE DAY)
First Sergeant Mac Miller from Comanche Troop 3rd Squadron 4th Cavalry lift weights as he exercises in Forward Operating Base Connolly in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan, March 3, 2012. Picture taken March 3, 2012. REUTERS/Erik De Castro (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: MILITARY CONFLICT)
A U.S. Army soldier and a member of the Afghan Uniform Police arm wrestle prior to a joint patrol near Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Burton (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A U.S. service member takes a "selfie" as U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with troops after delivering remarks at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, May 25, 2014. Obama, on a visit to Afghanistan, said on Sunday his administration would likely announce soon how many troops the United States will keep in the country, as it winds down its presence after nearly 13 years of war. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
Afghan children gesture at U.S. soldiers from Grim Company of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment as they stand guard near an Afghan police checkpoint during a mission near Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan December 19, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY CONFLICT)
U.S. soldiers attend to a wounded soldier at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan June 30, 2015. At least 17 people were wounded in a suicide bomb attack on NATO troops as their truck convoy passed down the main road running between Kabul's airport and the U.S. embassy, police and health ministry officials said. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A U.S. soldier keeps watch at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan January 4, 2016. A large explosion struck close to Kabul airport on Monday, causing at least 10 casualties near to the area where a suicide bomber blew himself up earlier in the day in the latest in a series of attacks in the Afghan capital over the past week. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
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According to a security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the five gunmen got through an initial checkpoint on the approach road to the hotel before reaching a second checkpoint close to a car park near the hotel entrance.

At that point, the official said they appeared to have shot the checkpoint guards and made their way around the back of the building and into the kitchen before beginning the attack.

Once inside, they went through the ground and first floors, opening fire on staff and guests before moving quickly to the upper levels of the six-floor building.

Hassibullah, who was working in the hotel bakery, said he ran upstairs to a fifth-floor room and barricaded himself in with around 12 people, including guests, when the firing started. He survived a jump to the ground, suffering two broken legs, a broken back and internal injuries.

Speaking from a hospital bed, he said the attackers began firing into the door, which the guests had blocked with piled-up furniture when the lights went out and he took his only chance.

"The only thing I could do was open the window and jump out," he said. (Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie)

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and James Mackenzie; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Nick Macfie)

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