Fourteen foreigners and four Afghans were killed after gunmen burst into Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel restaurant on Saturday and opened fire.
Afghan Special Forces ended the siege overnight killing all three attackers who took hostage sand battled security forces for hours.
The BBC reported that the dead included nine Ukrainians, one German, one Greek and one Kazakh citizen had been confirmed dead. Two of the deceased have yet to be identified.
Afghan airline Kam Air said a number of its employees were killed and some are still missing. Around 40 of its pilots and air crew, many of whom are foreigners, were staying at the hotel.
Ten people, including four civilians, were injured and around 160 were rescued.
Abdul Rahman Naseri, a guest who was at the hotel for a conference, was in the hall of the hotel when he saw four gunmen dressed in army uniforms.
“They were shouting in Pashto (language), ‘Don’t leave any of them alive, good or bad’. ‘Shoot and kill them all,’ one of them shouted,” Naseri said.
“I ran to my room on the second floor. I opened the window and tried to get out using a tree but the branch broke and I fell to the ground. I hurt my back and broke a leg.”
As day broke on Sunday, thick clouds of black smoke could be seen pouring from the building. Several armored US military vehicles with heavy machine guns could be seen close to the hotel along with Afghan police units.
The raid came just days after a US embassy warning of possible attacks on hotels in Kabul.
The Taliban says it was behind the latest attack, Reuters reported.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the attack was carried out by five fighters.
A statement from the interior ministry put the blame on the Haqqani network, a group affiliated with the Taliban, which claimed a previous attack on the hotel in 2011.
The raid was the latest in a long series of attacks which have underlined the city’s precarious situation and the ability of militants to mount high profile operations aimed at undermining confidence in the Western-backed government.
Hotel manager Ahmad Haris Nayab, who escaped unhurt, said the attackers had got into the main part of the hotel through a kitchen before going through the hotel.
According to one witness, who did not want to be named, the attackers took hotel staff and guests hostage.
The Intercontinental Hotel, an imposing 1960s structure set 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.
The attack, just days after a United Nations Security Council visit to Kabul to allow senior representatives of member states to assess the situation in Afghanistan, may lead to a further tightening of security in Kabul.
Large areas of the city center are already closed off behind high concrete blast walls and police checkpoints but the ability of the attackers to get into a well-protected hotel frequented by both government officials and foreigners demonstrated how difficult it remains to prevent high profile attacks.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said a private company had taken over security of the hotel about three weeks ago.
The State Department said on Saturday it was monitoring the situation and was in contact with Afghan authorities to determine whether any US citizens had been affected.
Captain Tom Gresback, spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, said they were also watching closely but it was not clear what role international forces were taking in suppressing the attack.
“Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are leading the response efforts. According to initial reports, no Resolute Support or (US forces) members were injured in this incident,” he said in an emailed statement.
Although Resolute Support 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”.