18 Dead in Suicide Attack at Kabul Hotel
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The nine militants who targeted a Kabul hotel in a brazen attack killed nine other people, officials said Wednesday.

All the militants, who were prepared to be suicide bombers, died as well, officials said. Six detonated their explosives, said Siddiq Siddiqi, spokesman for the Afghanistan Interior Ministry. The other three were killed on the hotel roof by NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) snipers.

Two police officers are among the dead in the attack at the Hotel Inter-Continental, which began Tuesday night and continued into early Wednesday, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. Officials described the other seven victims as civilians.

One was a Spanish citizen, Spain's news agency EFE reported, citing a family source. Antonio Planas, a 48-year-old pilot, leaves behind a wife and a daughter.

Two Special Operations Forces from New Zealand "received moderate injuries" in responding to the attack, the New Zealand military said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the siege. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said suicide attackers entered the hotel after killing security guards at the entrance. "One of the suicide attackers told us on the phone that they are in the lobby and chasing guests into their rooms by smashing the doors of the rooms," Mujahid told CNN in an e-mail as the incident was unfolding.

But a Kabul-based official who has direct access to security information told CNN it is believed the attack was instead orchestrated by the Haqqani network, a group of terrorists loyal to the warlord Siraq Haqqani.

The Haqqanis have staged many spectacular attacks in Kabul in recent years and have the longstanding goal of trying to destabilize the Karzai government. "Confidence is high" in the information that the Haqqanis were behind the attack, the official said.

The attackers wore suicide belts, the official said. The first detonated at an entrance to the hotel, and others then rushed in, the official said.

While NATO played a key role in helping Afghan police and military end the attack, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said it will not interrupt the planned handover of power from international forces to Afghan troops.

ISAF sent a similar message, praising "the rapid response by Afghan security forces who cleared the building and secured the situation."

"This attack will do nothing to prevent the security transition process from moving forward," said Rear Admiral Vic Beck, ISAF spokesman. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has said U.S. troops will start withdrawing from Afghanistan in July, and that a military handover should be completed in 2014.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the dead and injured," Beck said in a statement. He added, "Even though insurgents have declared their intention to avoid civilian casualties, this attack put Afghan lives at risk and demonstrates their complete disregard for the Afghan people."

Karzai condemned the "terrorists" who "have no mercy on killings of civilians."

The attack came on the eve of a news conference that was scheduled to take place at the hotel Wednesday to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces that U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week.

The news conference was canceled, and the hotel remained closed Wednesday.

Afghan authorities said they believe the attackers crept up through woods near the hotel to evade police checkpoints on the main road.

One attacker detonated a suicide vest in the lobby, causing chaos, officials said. At least five accomplices then stormed upstairs, ultimately making it to the roof.

Afghan commandos were among those who arrived shortly after, officials said.