26 die in Kabul hotel attack
22 June, 2012
QARGHA LAKE: At least 15 civilians were killed when seven Taliban militants shot their way into a popular lakeside resort here and took scores of hostages, Afghan officials said on Friday.
The seven attackers, a police officer and three private guards also died as Afghan security forces fought their way into the compound to end the siege.
The onslaught lasted nearly 11 hours as Afghan security forces tried to rescue hostages and the hotel's other customers.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Afghans drank alcohol there and that there was prostitution and dancing. "These acts are illegal and strictly prohibited in Islam," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman. He added that: "Women dancers were sexually misused there."
Police officials described the sprawling resort at Qargha lake and the Spozhmai hotel, where the drama unfolded, as a daunting place to mount a rescue operation because it is wooded and easy for attackers to hide. In addition to the main hotel, there is at least one other hotel and numerous small cottages.
"The Afghan security forces managed to evacuate 250 to 300 customers at the hotel in the initial hours of the attack and in the morning we resumed our operation and so far we've managed to rescue 40 more hostages including women and children," said General Ayoub Salangi, the Kabul police chief.
"We also rescued four men who were stuck in the water," he said, referring to guests at the hotel who in the initial moments of the attack jumped into the lake. Because they could not swim, they had to cling to the stone sea wall, immersed in the chilly mountain waters until they were fished out by police in the morning.
This is not the first time the Taliban have attacked civilians. They stormed a branch of Kabul Bank in Jalalabad in early 2011, executing customers, and nearly a year ago they stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, killing at least eight people.
At least two of the attackers appear to have died when they detonated suicide vests they were wearing.
Beginning at dawn there was gunfire, and Afghan police officers were fighting with the attackers but trying to stage their counterattack, said Gen. Mohammed Zahir, head of the Kabul Criminal Investigation Division.
"The Spozhmai Hotel is not a military facility, it's a civilian hotel," General Zahir said. "We still do not know why the Taliban targeted the Spozhmai Hotel."
General Zahir said that the attack began at 11:30 p.m. when the Taliban entered the hotel and "started shooting indiscriminately and injured a lot of civilians who were having a late dinner."
"Some of the civilians managed to escape and some were taken hostage," he said. By early morning, American helicopters were shooting flares and the area was swarming with Afghan National Police and army troops. More NATO forces were on the way, according to Afghan officials at the scene, and NATO officials confirmed that it was a joint operation.
The picturesque hotel is the centerpiece of the resort, which was once the property of Afghanistan's royal family and is now owned by the government. About 10 miles from the capital, it is one of the few places in Kabul Province where people can go for a break from the crowded city streets. There are boats for rent and cottages for families, and the resort is popular with families on the weekly Friday holiday.
The lake is also a favorite spot for young Kabul residents who buy illegal alcohol and drink it in the picnic areas.