Taliban storm Afghan hotel, killing 18 people

 

Heavily armed Taliban insurgents stormed into a lakeside hotel north of Kabul and opened fire on guests inside, killing 18 people — most civilians — before the 12-hour long rampage ended this morning, Afghan officials said.

The brazen attack on a resort where many Afghans go to try to forget about the war was a dramatic reminder of the Taliban's resiliency as insurgents push hard with their summer offensive in a show of strength as US-led forces prepared to withdraw by the end of 2014.

Insurgents first killed the security guards at the hotel, then pushed their way inside and began firing at guests who were having a late-night meal. Some of the guests escaped while others were held hostage as the attackers battled Afghan security forces who rushed to the scene for the next 12 hours.

Kabul police said five attackers had been shot and killed by midday today, ending the standoff. The Taliban claimed only four of their fighters were involved in the attack on the Spozhmai hotel at Qargha Lake, a popular weekend retreat about a half-hour drive from the capital.

US Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said the attack was likely carried out by fighters loyal to the Haqqani network. The al-Qa'ida linked group is based in Pakistan and regularly targets Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and conducts deadly attacks in Kabul.

"This attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans and blatantly violate Afghan sovereignty from the safety of Pakistan," Allen said, adding that some victims were killed in their sleep.

He added that the coalition provided "minimal support" at the Afghans' request.

Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for Kabul police, said the hotel was crowded when the attackers entered and opened fire on families having a late dinner.

"Some of the guests jumped from the window into the hotel yard. They were hiding under trees or any safe place they could find," he said. "Three of the guests jumped into the lake and hid in the water."

Kabul Police Chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi said the attackers — armed with machines guns, rocket-propelled grenades and vests laden with explosives — stormed the Spozhmai hotel at Qargha Lake before midnight on yesterday. By midmorning today, militants were still fighting Afghan forces, supported by international troops, and gunfire pierced the quiet surroundings of the lake area. Black smoke rose from the two-story hotel surrounded by trees as NATO helicopters circled overhead.

Mohammad Qasim, who survived the attack, said he went to the reception desk to tell the manager that he suspected that militants had entered the hotel.

"Before I finished talking with the manager, they fired on us," Qasim said. "(The manager) hid himself behind his desk, but around three to four other guys who were guards and waiters were killed by the attackers."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the assault, the latest in a string of attacks this week.

Fourteen Afghan civilians, three security guards and an Afghan police officer died in the attack, said Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for Kabul police.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the Taliban attacked the hotel because foreigners there were drinking alcohol and participating in other activities banned by Islam, but that was disputed by the Kabul police.

"The Taliban propaganda is saying that there was immoral activity there and that people were drinking alcohol," said Zahir, the criminal director for the Kabul police. "That is totally wrong. These are people who had worked all week and had gone to the lake to have a restful dinner with their families. The view there is very good for relaxation. There is no alcohol."

The hotel, situated on a man-made lake, is a popular place for well-to-do Afghans to spend Thursday night — the beginning of the Afghan weekend — or for picnic excursions on a Friday when paddleboats and horseback riding are on offer. Though international workers do go to Qargha lake, Afghans make up the majority of the clientele at the hotels and kebab shops along its shore.

Security at the lake is light compared with targets inside the Afghan capital, which has been hit frequently as the Taliban show they can still strike very close to the seat of the Afghan government. While hotels at the lake have armed guards, there are no massive blast walls and security cordons that surround government and military buildings in Kabul. Zahir said only two of the three guards killed at the hotel were armed.

The hotel was a soft target compared with the attacks insurgents have launched inside the city in recent years, including taking over construction sites and firing down on embassies and storming the tightly secured Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul last summer.

The week has been particularly violent in Afghanistan, as insurgents stepped up attacks against international forces. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked US and Afghan forces at a checkpoint in a busy market in the east, killing 21 people, including three US soldiers. The same day, seven Afghan civilians were killed by a roadside bomb.

Those bombings came the day after two attacks in the south in which militants stormed a Nato military base and attacked a police checkpoint. US troops were wounded in the attack on the Nato base, officials said. On Monday, three gunmen dressed in Afghan police uniforms killed one American service member and wounded nine others in Kandahar's Zhari district.

The fighting suggests that the Taliban are not planning to wait for international combat forces to complete their exit from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. The commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, has to withdraw 23,000 American troops by the end of September, leaving about 68,000 US military personnel in the country.

Separately, the US-led coalition said two NATO service members were killed Friday by insurgents in southern Afghanistan. No other details were released and it was not clear whether they were killed in the same attack. So far this year, 203 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan.

AP

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

Power & Gas Business Analyst / Subject Matter Expert - Contract

£600 - £800 per day: Harrington Starr: Power & Gas Business Analyst/Subject Ma...

Year 6 Teacher needed for 1 Term- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 6 larger then life teach...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering