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Gunmen assault luxury hotel in Afghan capital, 5 dead

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, killing at least five people, including a foreigner, and setting off a gun battle with security forces that lasted well over 12 hours and continued into Sunday afternoon.

Six other people, including three security forces, were reported wounded and more than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, have been rescued from the hotel, said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish.

The bodies of three attackers were recovered as security forces continued to clear the landmark building, he said. "For the time being we can only confirm that one foreigner was among those who were killed in the attack," he added.

"The security forces are going room-by-room to make sure that there are no more attackers in the building," Danish said.

The Intercontinental Hotel is located on a hilltop in the Bagh-e Bala area of the capital and is heavily guarded because it hosts both Afghan and foreign guests as well as official conferences. Last night's attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault. The property is not part of the InterContinental chain of worldwide hotels.

The Interior Ministry said a private firm assumed responsibility for securing the hotel around three weeks ago. The ministry says it is investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building.

Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were gathered at the hotel to participate in a conference organized by the Telecommunication Ministry.

No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which started around 9 p.m. Saturday. As the fighting raged, a fire broke out. Firefighters are still battling the blaze. Live TV footage showed people trying to escape through windows on the upper stories.

Capt. Tom Gresback, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in a statement that Afghan forces were leading the response efforts. He said that according to initial reports, no foreign troops were hurt in the attack.

Neighboring Pakistan condemned the "brutal terrorist attack" and called for greater cooperation against militants. Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely accuse each other of failing to combat extremists along their long and porous border.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat 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 massive attacks in recent years.

In the northern Balkh province, insurgents burst into a home where several members of a local pro-government militia were gathered late Saturday, leading them outside and killing 18 of them, said Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy provincial police chief. Among those killed was a tribal leader who served as the local police commander, he said.

In the western Farah province, a roadside bomb killed a deputy provincial police chief and wounded four other police early Sunday, according to Gen. Mahruf Folad, the provincial police chief.

The Taliban claimed both attacks.

In the western Herat province, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying 13 civilians, killing all but one of them, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Walizada blamed Taliban insurgents, who often plant roadside bombs to target Afghan security forces.

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