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Afghan forces end siege

Security forces said Sunday they had killed the last of six Taliban militants to end an overnight siege at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel that left at least 18 people dead, including 14 foreigners. Some of the 150 guests fled the gun battle and fire sparked by the assault by shimmying down bedsheets from the upper floors.

The militants, who wore suicide vests, pinned down security forces for more than 13 hours after the attack began about 9 p.m. Saturday. The gunmen roamed the hallways and targeted foreigners and Afghan officials inside the luxury, hilltop hotel.

The more than 150 people who were rescued or managed to escape included 41 foreigners, said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish. Of those, 10 people were injured, including six security forces, he said.

Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were at the hotel for a conference organized by the Telecommunication Ministry.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the heavily guarded hotel that is popular among foreigners and Afghan officials.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to strike the hotel Thursday night but postponed it because a wedding was underway there and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

The attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault on the property.

Mumtaz Ahmad, a provincial telecommunication employee for Helmand province, said he was walking from his room to the reception for his group on Saturday night.

"When the elevator door opened, I saw two armed suicide bombers. People were escaping and the attackers were firing at them," he said.

Fire broke out in the six-story hotel as the fighting raged, filling some guest rooms with smoke. Live TV video showed people trying to escape through windows and from the upper stories as thick, black smoke poured from the building.

During a news conference, Danish said that an initial investigation showed that six insurgents entered the hotel from the northern side and stormed its kitchen. 

Two of the attackers were killed by special forces on the 6th floor of the hotel.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States strongly condemns the attack, adding that Washington "stands with the government and people of Afghanistan. We remain firmly committed to supporting Afghan efforts to achieve peace, security and prosperity for their country."

Neighbouring Pakistan also condemned the "brutal terrorist attack" and called for greater co-operation against militants.

Afghan forces have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.

They have also had to contend with a growing Islamic State affiliate that has carried out a number of big attacks in recent years.



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