Faze Ahmed returned to Irvine Friday night, which began with an embrace from his mother at LAX. His family is relieved that he is back on U.S. soil.
The 31-year-old is a University of California, Berkley doctoral student studying Afghan legal history and arrived in Kabul two days before the attack.
Ahmed was stranded alone in his fourth floor room for hours at the hotel InterContinental in Kabul, where Taliban suicide bombers launched a deadly attack Tuesday night.
At first Ahmed thought he was hearing construction.
"The reason I thought it was construction, there was a sign on the elevator, which wasn't working that day by the way," said Ahmed. "It said 'please excuse us for our construction and our noise.'"
But as the noise became louder, it became clear to Ahmed that the hotel was under siege and that the shooting was coming from inside and outside the building.
"The shooting started, the lights were cut off, and for the next 6 to 7 hours there was intermittent shooting and explosions," said Ahmed.
The attackers blew themselves up in bedrooms, stairwells and hallways. The top floor was completely destroyed by fire. On the roof was a massive firefight. The attackers brought bags full of Red Bull energy drinks and water so they could fight for hours.
Finally when the shooting stopped, Ahmed and the other hotel guests were escorted to the basement where hotel security checked them to make sure they weren't Taliban members.
"After about an hour in the basement everybody was let out," said Ahmed. "We were told everything was fine. We were sitting in the parking lot; I was sitting in the parking lot just trying to get a breather. And then the shooting started again. And then one by one we were instructed by some of the Afghan army soldiers nearby when we could start running down the hill."
NATO and Afghan forces eventually ended the attack by killing the Taliban gunmen. The death toll now stands at 21 people- nine were suicide bombers.
While Ahmed is thankful to be alive, he says his thoughts and prayers are with the families of the civilians who did not make it out alive. He says he doesn't know when he plans to return to Afghanistan.