KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2009 -- Today in Kabul, residents woke up to a city buzzing with sound -- explosions, gunfire and then, rocket blasts at two hotels. In two hours, two hotels considered safe were proved to be very dangerous.
It was a violent, chaotic early morning in the Afghan capital. The first attack took place shortly after 5 a.m. inside a United Nations' Bakhtar guest house.
There were four Afghan police outside, four private Afghan security guards inside along with three U.N. security contractors.
Suicide bomb explosions were followed by a fierce firefight with gunmen who stormed the guest house. At least one of the attackers wore a green army jacket, according to a witness, and the four guards outside were killed immediately. After the firefight the attackers entered the guest house's courtyard.
"They were everywhere," said one house guest. "They were throwing grenades, they had heavy weapons."
Some of the guests staying on the top floors became engulfed in flames. Attempts were made to rescue them, but many of the victims were caught in the fire.
U.N. officials said a total of 12 people were killed, including six U.N. staff, three attackers, two security guards and an Afghan civilian. One of the six U.N. dead was an American, the U.S. Embassy told The Associated Press.
American Chris Turner, a private security contractor, was a guest in the U.N. guest house who fought back against the gunmen.
It was a "two-hour gun battle, had to be more than two or three," Turner said. "A suicide bomber killed one of the women inside, she was trying to get out through the fire and he blew himself [up]."
Many of the victims were election workers here for next week's presidential run-off on Nov. 7. Upstairs, two women were trapped in their room.
"They were saying, what should we do, what can we do, crying, saying we don't want to die, panicked," Turner said.
The guest house had been perceived as a secure residence, with a guard post, a heavy metal gate, more guards inside.
In a telephone call to the AP, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assaults.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned the "inhuman" attacks and called for stronger security measures around all international institutions in the capital.
U.N. Security Fights Back
Even as the attack at the U.N. guest house was still raging, explosions rocked the Serena hotel, which is popular with foreign diplomats and journalists. An ABC News camera crew caught the initial impact on tape, the first of several rockets.
The entire hotel staff and guests were evacuated to a bunker three levels underground, where ore blasts were heard.
Eyewitnesses said the U.N. security guards fought back bravely, preventing the attackers from taking hostages, which they believe was their intent. One witness said the difference between those who survived and those who didn't was just a matter of good luck.