Taliban attack on Afghan hotel ends after 13 hours, 19 dead

Afghan security forces stand guard as black smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Taliban attack on Afghan hotel ends after 13 hours, 19 dead

KABUL: A Taliban assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan’s capital killed at least 19 people, including 14 foreigners, and pinned security forces down for more than 13 hours before the last attacker was killed on Sunday, with the casualty toll expected to rise.
The heavily-guarded luxury hotel is popular among foreigners and Afghan officials. Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the 19 killed included 14 foreigners and a telecommunications official from the western Farah province who was attending a conference.
“11 of the 14 foreigners killed were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline,” said Danish. KamAir also put out an announcement saying some of their flights were disrupted because of the attack.
Ukraine says one of its citizens was killed in the attack. Vasyl Kyrylych, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, announced the death of the Ukrainian citizen in a brief statement on Twitter, without providing further details. Afghan officials did not identify the foreigner killed in the attack.
Ten other people, including six from the security forces, were reported wounded and more than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, were rescued from the hotel, Danish said.
The Taliban claimed the attack, which began around 9 p.m. Saturday, saying five gunmen armed with suicide vests targeted foreigners and Afghan officials. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to attack the hotel Thursday night but postponed the assault because there was a wedding underway and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.
The attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault on the property, which 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.
During a press conference, Danish said that early investigations show that six insurgents entered the hotel from the northern side and stormed its kitchen. Two attackers were killed by Special Forces on the 6th floor of the hotel.
“We need to complete our investigation, but our initial reports show that the attackers were moved in to the hotel,” said Danish.
Mumtaz Ahmad, a provincial telecommunication employee for Helmand province who survivor the attack said “I was on my way from my room toward the reception, when I the elevator door opened, I saw two-armed suicide bombers. People were escaping and the attackers were firing at them.”
Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were gathered at the hotel to participate in a conference organized by the Telecommunication Ministry.
A fire broke out at the hotel as the fighting raged, and the sound of explosions could be heard throughout the standoff. 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 US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. They have also had to contend with a growing Daesh 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.


Three key duels in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool

Updated 18 min 17 sec ago
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Three key duels in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool

  • Marcelo will have to find a way to stop Salah
  • Ronaldo will come up against the mountainous van Dijk

The two highest scoring sides in this season's Champions League face off for the title when defending champions Real Madrid and Liverpool go head-to-head in Kiev on Saturday. With goals seemingly guaranteed in the Ukrainian capital, we look at the key matchups where the game could be won and lost.

Virgil van Dijk vs. Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo is looking to join an esteemed group of 10 players to win five European Cups by scoring in his fourth separate final.
After a slow start to the season, the World Player of the Year has been in stunning form since the turn of the year, scoring 30 goals in 23 appearances for club and country in 2018.
Ronaldo leads the Champions League goalscorers charts for the sixth consecutive season with 15, but will come up against the world's most expensive defender in £75 million ($100 million) Dutchman Virgil van Dijk in Kiev.
Van Dijk already looks worth the massive price Liverpool paid Southampton for his services in January, as much for the improvement he has inspired in those around him as his own performances.
"I feel also personally much more confident when you know you have a really good partner next to you," said Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren.
"He's a leader, he takes control," added right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. "He's really got authority."

Mohamed Salah vs. Marcelo

Salah has been the star turn of Liverpool's season, scoring 44 goals in his debut season at Anfield to plunder a series of individual Player of the Year awards.
The Egyptian should get plenty of space to showcase his blistering pace and new-found calm in front of goal in the space normally left unoccupied by Madrid's cavalier left-back Marcelo.
Salah exploited the gaps left by the Brazilian on numerous occasions when Roma were eliminated by Madrid from the Champions League two seasons ago, when Salah lacked the killer finishing touch he has demonstrated this season to take his chances.
Bayern Munich right-back Joshua Kimmich scored in both legs of this season's semi-final against Real with Marcelo caught out of position.
However, the Madrid vice-captain, now in his 11th year at the Bernabeu, makes up for his defensive liabilities by bombing forward at every opportunity to wreak havoc at the other end.
"I know exactly how I have to play," insisted Marcelo on Friday.
The flying full-back has scored against Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern on route to the final, and also has plenty of positive experience in Champions League finals having netted in 2014 and 2016, in a penalty shootout, against Atletico Madrid.

Roberto Firmino vs. Sergio Ramos

Overshadowed by Salah's sensational season, Firmino also has 10 Champions League goals to his name this season and is the key starting point for Jurgen Klopp's pressing game.
"He's not bothered about hard work, which is another important thing," said Klopp when Firmino recently extended his contract to 2023. "For an offensive player that is pretty rare in world football."
Described as a cross between a goalscoring number nine and creative number 10 by Brazil coach Tite, Liverpool will hope Firmino's movement can drag another Madrid Champions League specialist in Ramos out of position.
Madrid captain Ramos embodies this Real side as he tends to save his best for the big occasion.
The Spaniard started Real's recent run of European dominance with a stoppage time equaliser against Atletico in the 2014 final and also scored against Real's local rivals two years later in another all-Madrid showpiece.