Eventually, better equipped Afghan Army commandos arrived, and Afghan officials say they used night-vision goggles. The police had cut power to the entire neighborhood, robbing the attackers of the ability to move through the hotel easily. The police officials who gave ABC News the tour of the hotel suggested that the power cut prevented the attackers from getting into some of the upper floor rooms, whose doors are electronic.
Still, the attackers were able to booby trap some of the rooms, and police officials said a second New Zealand special forces soldier was injured by a bomb hidden in one of the rooms.
Throughout the attack, police officials said, President Hamid Karzai was calling for updated every 10 to 20 minutes.
Witness: Chaos Inside the Hotel
Despite initial reports that the attackers managed to get through security checkpoints in front of the hotel, police officials today said all nine approached from a wooded hill behind the hotel. The nine attackers cut barbed wire and were able to get around to the side entrance, police said, near the swimming pool.
Jamshed Arian was eating at the hotel with hundreds of other Afghans. He said after the initial bullets, some guests thought they were celebratory, from a nearby wedding. But then the bullets started coming in faster, and the guests panicked. They all started running, knocking over tables and chairs.
"People were trying to jump over the fence with barbed wire," the 24-year-old said. "And people were getting stuck and falling down. I saw about three to four people breaking their legs."
"They were screaming and people were running and saying, 'Allah,' and there were kids crying," said Arian, who says he used to work for the U.S. military before joining the Afghan government.
Arian described how a group of people ran toward one of the hotel's outer walls. They took shelter there and hid for 2-3 hours, he said, until they felt safe enough to walk down to the main road.
Hotel Security Under Investigation
Afghan authorities are clearly upset that the attackers managed to breach one of the most secure buildings in the city. Police said today that the head of the department that provides security to VIPs and hotels such as the Intercontinental is under investigation.
The Intercontinental Hotel is a Kabul and Afghan icon. It has survived the same wars that Afghans have suffered from for 30 years: the Soviet invasion, the civil war, the Taliban, and the U.S.-led invasion.
Never before has it been attacked with such success.
The rare nighttime attack shocked much of this city. And it was a grim reminder that few places are truly safe from insurgents.
"People are grieved about it, no doubt. But there's no other option," Arian said. "They have to live here. This is our country. We can't go anywhere else."