Heavily armed Taliban militants stormed into a lakeside hotel north of Kabul and opened fire on guests inside, killing 18 people mostly civilians before the 12-hour long rampage ended on Friday morning, said Afghan officials.
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 militants push hard with their summer offensive in a show of strength as U.S.-led forces prepared to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Militants 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 security forces who rushed to the scene for the next 12 hours. Kabul police said five attackers had been shot and killed by midday Friday, 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.
American Gen. John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the attack was likely carried out by fighters loyal to the Haqqani network. The al-Qaeda 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.
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.