A luxury Kabul hotel is under siege as gunmen and suicide attackers entered the building, killing and taking guests hostage.
Afghan special forces have launched an operation to end the assault on the five star Kabul Intercontinental Hotel, which is popular with foreigners, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.
The attack began at about 9pm local time when the men entered the hotel through the kitchen.
Four gunmen attacked the hotel and exchanged fire with security forces as residents and staff fled.
One attacker was killed by security forces and the other three are still inside the hotel, Nasrat Rahimi, a deputy spokesman for the interior ministry said.
Hostages are believed to have been taken and suicide bombers are thought to be among the group.
One witness, who did not want to be named, said they took some hotel staff and guests hostage.
Speaking from Afghanistan, journalist Bilal Sarwary told Sky News: “Some local TV stations are reporting that two loud explosions were heard.”
He described it as a “complex attack” and added: “Eyewitnesses have said they managed to escape and there were a number of casualties and fatalities on several of the floors.”
“Four attackers are inside the building,” an official at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) spy agency said.
They are “shooting at guests,” he said.
Special forces were being lowered by helicopters onto the hotel’s roof, Mr Rahimi said.
The attack came just two days after the US embassy in Kabul warned “extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul”.
A guest hiding in a room said he could hear gunfire inside the hotel.
“I don’t know if the attackers are inside the hotel but I can hear gunfire from somewhere near the first floor.
“We are hiding in our rooms. I beg the security forces to rescue us as soon as possible before they reach and kill us.”
An official said the attackers had small weapons and rocket-propelled grenades when they blasted their way into the building.
Hotel manager Ahmad Haris Nayab, who escaped unscathed, said people were fleeing amid bursts of gunfire from all sides.
More than 100 IT managers and engineers were at the hotel when the attack occurred, Ahmad Waheed, a telecommunications ministry official said.
So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack but Islamic State has said it has been behind several deadly assaults in the city in recent months.
The heavily protected hotel, one of Kabul’s two main luxury hotels, was attacked by Taliban fighters in 2011, killing 21 people, including 10 civilians.
It is often used for events which include conferences attended by government officials.
A conference on Afghanistan-China relations was held at the hotel earlier on Saturday, attended by the Chinese embassy’s political counsellor Zhang Zhixin.