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Asia-pacific

Hostages freed in deadly Kabul hotel siege

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-06-22

Dozens of hostages were freed by Afghan security forces on Friday hours after Taliban gunmen had stormed a lakeside hotel on the outskirts of Kabul, police said, in a deadly attack that underscored the Taliban's potency after a decade of war.

REUTERS - Gunmen took scores of hostages at a popular lakeside hotel on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, police said on Friday, during a deadly attack lasting several hours that underscored the Taliban’s potency despite more than a decade of war.

At least three militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns attacked the exclusive Spozhmai hotel in the Qargha Lake recreation area around midnight on Thursday, bursting into a party and shooting dead hotel guards.

Many terrified guests jumped into the lake in darkness to escape the carnage, in which at least nine people were killed, including six civilians, Afghan officials and residents said.

Elite Afghan quick-response police backed by NATO troops had freed at least 35 hostages and killed two gunmen in an operation that only began in earnest after sunrise to help security forces avoid unnecessary civilian deaths in night-time confusion.

At least two of the militants were believed to be still fighting from inside the hotel, possibly holding more people hostage, said Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, as explosions and gunfire continued to rock the area.

Three hotel guards were killed, along with one policeman. At least six Afghan civilians were also thought to have been killed in the attack, he said, although access to the area was blocked by security forces and details were still sketchy.

Two NATO attack helicopters could be seen prowling over the single-storey hotel building and a balcony popular with guests for its sunset views.

The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, complaining wealthy Afghans and foreigners used the hotel, about 10 km (6 miles) from the centre of Kabul, to have “wild parties” in the lead-up to the Friday religious day holiday.

The incident again highlighted the ability of the Afghan Taliban to stage high-profile attacks even as NATO nations prepare to withdraw most combat troops by the end of 2014, leaving Afghan forces to take the lead against the insurgency.

Authorities are about midway through a transition process during which security responsibility is being handed from NATO-led foreign troops to Afghan forces.

“This is a crime against humanity because they targeted children, women and civilians picnicking at the lake. There wasn’t even a single soldier around there,” said General Mohammad Zahir, head of the Kabul police investigation unit.

A pall of smoke hung over the hotel and television pictures showed people wading out of the lake onto a balcony and clambering over a wall to safety.

New face of insurgency

P olice and soldiers fanned out around the hotel at dawn, arriving in cars and armoured Humvee vehicles and taking cover behind trees flanking the lake and a nearby golf course.

Resident Nasir Ahmad said his brother, who worked in the Spozhmai hotel, the most exclusive of several around the scenic lake, told him many people had been killed.

Police said they wanted to stage a rescue without resorting to a frontal attack that could kill the hotel guests who had been taken hostage.

Qargha Lake is one of Kabul’s few options for weekend getaways. Restaurants and hotels that dot the shore are popular with Afghan government officials and businessmen, particularly on Thursday nights.

Guests at the Spozhmai must pass through hotel security before entering the hotel, where tables with umbrellas overlook the water, but security is relatively light for a city vulnerable to militant attacks.

Violence across Afghanistan has surged in recent days, with three U.S. soldiers and more than a dozen civilians killed in successive attacks, mostly in the country’s east where NATO-led forces have focused their efforts during the summer fighting months.

Several well-planned assaults in Kabul in the past year have raised questions about whether the Taliban and their al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network allies have shifted tactics to embrace high-profile attacks targeting landmarks, foreigners and Afghanistan’s elite, extending a guerrilla war once primarily waged in the countryside.

Afghan insurgents attacked Kabul’s heavily protected diplomatic and government district on April 15 in an assault, eventually quelled by Afghan special forces guided by Western mentors, similar to one in September 2011.

President Hamid Karzai told a special session of parliament on Thursday that attacks by insurgents against Afghan police and soldiers were increasing as most foreign combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Date created : 2012-06-22

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