Kabul: An Afghan official said today at least 25 people were killed in the attack on a Kabul hotel, as confusion reigned over the true toll with conflicting figures given and Afghan media reporting higher numbers.
The health ministry official said at least 25 people had been killed, including 13 foreigners. But AFP has independently verified that 15 foreigners — seven Ukrainians, four Americans, two Venezuelans, one German and one Kazakh — died in the massacre.
“We have 25 deaths from the Intercontinental Hotel attack in Kabul — seven Afghans, 13 foreigners and five suspected attackers,” health ministry spokesman Wahid Majrooh told AFP.
That was hours after he gave a different toll, telling AFP that 25 Afghans had been killed and that “we don’t know about the foreign fatalities.”
An Afghan security official also said 25 people had been killed in the 12-hour attack on Saturday night but that figure included three badly burned bodies “which we believe are of foreigners”.
“To be honest I am not very sure about the final death toll yet,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Adding to the confusion, the interior ministry told AFP that the official death toll still stood at 22 but suggested that figure could change in the coming days.
“The fact-finding mission and investigation work will be finalised today and… the interior minister will have a press conference on Saturday where he will give the new details,” interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.
“There could be some new information and changes.”
Afghan media outlets have reported significantly higher death tolls. Tolo News previously quoted the interior ministry as saying 29 people had been killed, but also cited “reliable sources” as saying the number was around 43.
Afghan officials have a long history of understating death tolls in high-profile attacks and there is widespread speculation in Kabul that the true death toll in the hotel attack is far higher than what they have said.
“The government is concerned about the inevitable repercussions that this and yesterday’s attack (in Jalalabad) are going to have,” an Afghan media source told AFP.
“Businesses are going to think twice about coming in, foreigners are going to leave. We have seen in the past — specifically after last year’s truck bombing and previous hotel attacks — that a lot of foreigners leave.
“It’s almost a given that this happens, as a result government tends to keep information under wraps.”
The attack comes at a bad time for President Ashraf Ghani whose government was already facing criticism over its failure to improve security in the war-torn country.
Investigators are still looking into how the militants were able to get past privately-owned Kabul Balkh Safety and Security guards and launch the assault with guns and grenades.
Visitors to the upmarket hotel, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the Afghan capital, have described glaring security breaches before the assailants went on a bloody rampage targeting guests.
Bags were not checked, scanners did not work and body searches were non-existent, according to witnesses.
During the terrifying ordeal insurgents armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests went from room to room searching for foreigners, survivors and a security source have told AFP.