Kabul guest house attack: Stories of survival
All five men were visibly shaken. Some were bloodied from scratches. But theirs is an extraordinary story of survival after a four-hour long attack on their Kabul guest house.
"I'm amazed to be alive," one survivor kept repeating as he recounted how he hid under his bed on the third floor of the guest house for more than two hours.
"The gunmen went room to room, firing their weapons, but they never found us," said another man who told me how he crouched in the bottom of his wardrobe for hours.
The US-based Roots of Peace organisation said in a statement the Taliban had launched a "complex assault" on its compound and a nearby day-care centre.
It spoke of "a suicide car bomb followed by at least three armed men" that left two guards with the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) injured and one expatriate with minor cuts from flying glass.
It said there were "apparent casualties" at the day-care centre.
Afghanistan's Deputy Interior Minister General Salangi told my colleague Bilal Sarwary that a 10-year-old Afghan girl was killed while she played in the street. Her body was found in a ditch.
Police say a driver waiting to pick up foreign nationals also lost his life.
All five attackers died in the sustained gun battles. Police officials told Bilal that elite forces from the crisis response unit took charge of the operation and went, floor by floor, in search of the assailants and also surrounded the building.
The men in the guest house at the time included two Americans, a South African, an Australian, and a Malaysian. None of the men wanted to be named until they were able to speak in detail to their families.
But they all praised the special forces as well as the APPF guards who stayed at their posts, and protected them.
"A guard stayed with me the whole time," said one expat, who said he had often wondered what the police would do if there ever was an attack.
"It's a miracle," said a Roots for Peace official who anxiously followed the reports coming from the house.
"When we heard of a car bombing and then a suicide attack, we prepared for the worst."
So many grenades were fired, the guest house was said to be shaking.
The attack will rattle an already nervous expatriate community in the city.
One member of the Roots for Peace team, who was outside the guest house during the attack, was in the Serena Hotel during the recent deadly assault which left nine people dead, including Afghans and foreigners, on the eve of the Afghan New Year.
"Why would they target us?" one Roots for Peace official asked, shaking his head sorrowfully.
The organisation has worked for the past decade across this country. Their brochure entitled "Our Story" details their efforts to promote sustainable crops and empower local communities as well as to carry out landmine clearance.
"This tragic attack reminds us of the many challenges facing the innocent Afghan people, and our surge for firmly planting peace on the soils of Afghanistan will continue - hundreds, thousands, millions of shovels - not guns," said Heidi Kuehn, CEO and founder of Roots of Peace.
The street in the Karte Char area is an area of several guest houses as well as campaign offices for Afghanistan's upcoming presidential election.
The attack shattered the calm of a neighbourhood that is home to both Afghans and foreigners. A guest house is now badly damaged, a day-care centre in shock, and people's sense of security has been dented once again, with only one week to go before a landmark election.
But this extraordinary story of survival also highlights the preparedness and resolve of Afghan security forces, who are being tested, time and time again.