One of the leading hotels in Kabul, the Afghan capital, is under attack by suspected Taliban fighters, local police sources say.
They told Al Jazeera that six suicide bombers entered the hotel late on Tuesday, after a firefight outside. At least one of them detonated himself, they said.
Guests were being evacuated, but some were still inside, police said.
Bystanders were ordered to lay down on the ground for their own safety as the Afghan police battled the attackers with machine guns and other weapons.
The Associated Press reported that rocket-propelled grenades and tracer rounds could be seen and heard being fired at the site. AP reporters at the scene said they could hear bursts of gunfire and shooting from the roof of the five-storey building.
"It's an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel. There are several gunmen shooting," Mohammad Zahir, the criminal investigations chief, said. He said "a number" of police officers had been wounded.
Samoonyar Mohammad Zaman, a security officer for interior ministry, said the attackers were armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades. The were using grenade
launchers, he said.
Bette Dam, an independent journalist who was at the scene, told Al Jazeera that gunfire had gone on for "hours after hours", and that she had seen rocket-propelled grenades being fired.
She reported hearing two loud explosions at the site, though it was unclear what caused them. She described the attack as "very coordinated".
The Afghan interior ministry says that all of the "suicide bombers" have either detonated themselves or been killed.
"There are foreign and Afghan guests staying at the hotel,'' Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman, said. "We have reports that they are safe in their rooms, but still there is shooting.''
Zaman said there were 60-70 guests at the hotel, and that he had seen the bodies of two suicide bombers at the main entrance to the hotel.
Seddiqi said that two gunmen continued to fire from the roof of the hotel.
A guest said he heard gunfire echoing throughout the building. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to the press.
Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith, reporting from Kabul, said the Interncontinental is a very "well-defended hotel".
|This image, taken in 2001, shows the Intercontinental Hotel after journalists moved in to cover the US invasion [GALLO/GETTY]
"This happens - possibly coincidentally - as a two-day conference here in Kabul is due to start tomorrow, with people coming from across Afghanistan to talk about the transition - the taking over of the security responsibility by the Afghan security forces," he said.
"People who are going to that conference are staying at the hotel."
Streets leading to the Intercontinental were blocked. The hotel is situated on a hill overlooking Kabul. The scene was dark as electricity was out at the hotel.
Jawid, a guest at the hotel, said he jumped out of a first-storey window to flee the shooting.
"I was running with my family," he said. "There was shooting. The restaurant was full with guests."
ISAF, the US-led military force in the country, said the Afghan interior ministry had not requested any assistance from foreign forces in the wake of the attack.
Attacks in Kabul have been relatively rare, although violence has increased since the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda chief, in a US raid in Pakistan and the start of the Taliban's annual spring offensive.
On 18 June, armed men wearing Afghan army uniforms stormed a police station near the presidential palace and opened fire on officers, killing nine.
Late last month, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan police uniform infiltrated the main Afghan military hospital, killing six medical students.
A month before that, a suicide attacker in an army uniform sneaked past security at the Afghan defence ministry, killing three people.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies