The Taliban gunmen killed the hotel security guards immediately, and then began opening fire on guests of the hotel. The carnage was as gruesome as you can imagine. The hotel was literally a bloody mess with bodies and bullets everywhere.
Around 100 Afghan police backed by NATO responded, and NATO helicopters hovered over head. The Taliban engaged and a prolonged gun battle raged through the night, with the security forces hampered by efforts to avoid civilian casualties. The Taliban, of course, have no such concerns.
The siege lasted 12 hours and ended with 20 casualties – reports are still varied. There were also differing accounts about the number of attackers. The Afghan police special forces’ commander, Brig. Gen. Sayed Mohammad Roshan, said seven gunmen had been shot and killed, while the Taliban claimed only four of their fighters were involved.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the hotel was targeted because patrons were drinking alcohol and participating in other activities banned by Islam. He said the gunmen separated Afghan civilians from the rest of the people at the hotel and killed only foreign diplomats and Afghan security personnel.
That was disputed by Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for Kabul police, who said no foreigners were among the dead.
(This account was condensed from an AP newsfeed.)
Afghan police and NATO were not the only responders to the scene. A handful of combat journalists braved the battle to document the events, and found themselves pinned down by heavy gunfire and mortars.
A few of these combat journalists live tweeted the event while also coordinating information with news outlets and with each other. A back and forth on Twitter kept the information updated for the world watching, while the combat journalists dodged the fire.
The phenomenon of live tweeting a terror attack was so startling, the combat journalists became part of the story.
Anyone who was paying attention on Twitter had a harrowing sense of what it was like to be there – and what it is like to be a combat journalist arriving on scene without weapons or any plan other than to make sure the world knows what is really happening.
Two of the combat journalists who were on the scene and live tweeting the hotel siege while under heavy fire happen to be good friends of mine. Come back tomorrow to read my interview with them.