Top hotel in Afghan capital attacked

Suicide bombers attacked a major hotel frequented by Westerners in Afghanistan's capital late on Tuesday,...

Picture: EWN

Suicide bombers attacked a major hotel frequented by Westerners in Afghanistan's capital late on Tuesday, with four blasts and bursts of gunfire heard after an attack claimed by the Taliban, police and _Reuters _witnesses said.

There was no immediate information about casualties.

The attack at the Intercontinental Hotel, one of Kabul's two main hotels, came the night before a conference about the gradual transition of civil and military responsibility from foreign forces to Afghans was about to begin.

The hotel was not one of the venues to be used by the conference or its delegates, an Afghan government official said.

One blast was heard at the start of the attack and then three more at least an hour later, one of the _Reuters _witnesses said. Bursts of gunfire were heard over the same period and flares lit up the sky over the hotel.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said several fighters from the Islamist group had attacked the hotel.

Mujahid, who spoke to _Reuters _by telephone from an undisclosed location, said heavy casualties had been inflicted. The Taliban often exaggerate the number of casualties in attacks against Western and Afghan government targets.

The police source said a wedding party was underway when the attack happened and that there may have been casualties.

The hotel, built on a hillside in western Kabul with heavy fortifications all around it, is often used for conferences and by Westerners visiting the city.

Police threw up roadblocks immediately after the blast, stopping people from approaching the area, and power was cut in the hotel and surrounding areas, another _Reuters _witness said.

Violence has flared across Afghanistan since the Taliban announced the start of a spring offensive at the beginning of May, with attacks in areas across the country.

The increase in violence comes as NATO-led forces prepare to hand security responsibility to Afghans in seven areas from next month, at the start of a gradual transition process that will end with all foreign troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The two-day conference to discuss the transition process was due to begin in a government building in the centre of the city on Wednesday.

Violence across Afghanistan in 2010 was already at its worst levels since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.