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Militants Strike Iconic Kabul Hotel
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
In Afghanistan's capital Kabul tonight, a group of suicide bombers armed with heavy weapons attacked the Inter-Continental Hotel which is popular with foreigners and Afghan VIPs. Loud explosions and gunfire could be heard across the city as the battle raged for hours.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
NATO helicopters were called in to respond to the siege.
NPR's Quil Lawrence is in Kabul. He joins me now.
And, Quil, what more have you been able to learn about this brazen attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel?
QUIL LAWRENCE: Well, as dawn was breaking across Kabul, the attack seems to be over. We're still not clear exactly how many bombers, how many gunmen raided the Inter-Continental Hotel or how many people they might have killed inside.
The gun fighting started just before 11 p.m. local time, and there was one loud explosion beginning and some of the gunfire like what you just played. Around 3 o'clock, so some four hours later, we heard two very loud explosions which could have been suicide vests or other sort of bombs.
NATO helicopters were only called in around then. Kabul is officially under Afghan security, so they have to call in NATO, these U.S. helicopters to help. And according to NATO spokesman, they killed several people on the roof of the hotel essentially ending the battle.
BLOCK: And, Quil, very quickly, the Taliban did take responsibility for these attacks.
LAWRENCE: Early on, the Taliban called in that this was their attack. When they call so soon afterward an attack begins, it's usually a sign that it's a credible claim. But they also claimed a very high number of casualties. And at this moment, we really don't know how many people might have been killed or wounded inside the hotel. Their claims are often quite exaggerated.
BLOCK: And, Quil, tell us more about the Inter-Continental itself. Is it in the center of Kabul and what sort of security would these attackers have had to breach to get there.
LAWRENCE: The Inter-Con is sort of iconic in Kabul because it's lasted throughout decades of war, including the civil war that really raised many neighborhoods in Kabul right down to the ground. It used to be about the only place that foreigners would stay in Kabul. It's on a hilltop on the western edge of the city. And in order to get up to the hotel, anyone needs to pass several checkpoints on a - the half-mile long approach road. So these attackers either had to fight their way through those checkpoints or perhaps they breached the security from a different direction.
It's not clear yet whether they killed foreigners or perhaps Afghan VIPs who very often stay in the hotel.
BLOCK: How unusual is it, Quil, to have an attack like this, a Taliban attack right there in Kabul?
LAWRENCE: Well, Kabul security had been good earlier in the year. But we've now seen several high-profile attacks right in the middle of the city, sort of proving that the Taliban can infiltrate, sometimes wearing Afghan army uniforms and getting right into the center of the city attacking police stations and training centers.
Earlier this month, at least nine Afghan police were killed in a raid like that. And it really puts the question whether Kabul is ready for transition, whether the other six areas around the country are ready to - for a transition to Afghan control sometime next month.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Quil Lawrence talking about the attack tonight on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, that attack by suicide bombers.
Quil, thank you very much.
LAWRENCE: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.