Armed with an AK-47, an American contract worker said Wednesday he held off militants attacking a guest house in Kabul, allowing about two dozen U.N. election workers to escape.

John Turner, a trucker from Kansas City, Mo., described opening fire at the assailants as the guests he was protecting huddled in a laundry room at the back of the building.

"I am armed. I carry an AK-47 and I kept firing it to keep the attackers away from the group I was guarding," he said. He was shooting from the entrance of the laundry room. The group later jumped over a back wall to take refuge in a house behind the guest house, he said.

About 40 people were staying at the Bakhtar guest house in the heart of the Afghan capital during the dawn attack. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

The gunmen in police uniforms killed 12 people, including six U.N. staff. Three of the attackers also died.

Turner returned to the guest house hours after the attack to collect his personal belongings. He emerged from the fire-gutted, three-story building with a black chest packed with clothes and other personal belongings. He told reporters that he was a trucking contractor hired by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Flushed and with black stains on his hands and face, Turner said the attackers appeared well organized and were able to penetrate the building, located on a residential street.

Two men jumped out of the guest house and broke their legs and that a fire engulfed much of the building during a two-hour gunbattle between the assailants and Afghan policemen, Turner said.

"There was so much smoke, two women were completely overwhelmed," he said.

Turner said he ran upstairs knocking at doors to rouse the residents and that he and the 25 with him locked themselves in the laundry room before they thought it was safe enough to jump the back wall.

Miles Robertson, an Australian working as an election adviser, said he and his wife put wet towels over their faces and fled when the room next door caught fire.

"We realized that there was no way for us to go out under the stairs or any way for us to come outside," said Robertson, a lanky middle-aged man wearing a dingy sweat shirt who spoke breathlessly. "I opened the window and stepped out to the landing out front, and had a volley of shots fired at me."

Most of the guests at the house were U.N election workers, and Turner believed that's why they were targeted.

"This is all about the election," he said.

Turner said he was satisfied with the security measures in place at the guest house, which has no outside sign and three U.N. guards assigned to it. However, the house did not appear to be as heavily fortified as similar facilities or homes elsewhere in the city.