Afghan police free 18 civilians, hotel siege continues
UPDATED @ 11:32:01 AM 22-06-2012
KABUL, June 22 Afghan security forces have freed 18 civilians and killed two militants after a Taliban attack on a popular lakeside hotel on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, but a siege was still ongoing and more hostages may be held, the city police chief said today.
“Two terrorists have been killed and we have cleared the second floor of the hotel. We are now clearing the area of the remaining insurgents,” Kabul Police Chief Ayoub Salangi told Reuters.
“Our officers have not gone yet to the lake side (of the hotel) and we don’t know if there are more terrorists,” he said.
Kabul police said Afghan Taliban gunmen were holding several hostages, thought to include women and children, and some people had been killed.
An unknown number of gunmen, some armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, attacked the hotel in Kabul’s popular Qargha Lake recreation area late last night, triggering a five-hour gunbattle.
“It would be very easy for police to kill them, but we are afraid because there are civilians, including women and children, trapped inside. We are waiting for daylight,” said General Mohammad Zahir, head of the Kabul police investigation unit.
“According to the information we have, they have martyred some of them,” he said, meaning an unknown number of civilians had been killed.
The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying wealthy Afghans and foreigners used the hotel, about 10 km from the centre of Kabul, to have “wild parties” in the lead-up to the Friday religious day holiday.
Violence across Afghanistan has surged in recent days, with three US soldiers and more than a dozen civilians killed in successive attacks, mostly in the country’s east where NATO-led forces have focused efforts during the summer fighting months.
President Hamid Karzai told a special session of parliament yesterday 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.
A statement by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said Afghan civilians and police were targeted in the attack on the hotel and that it had received reports of an unspecified number of casualties among civilians and police.
Guests jump in lake
Zahir said there was a private party for wealthy Afghans under way inside the hotel when the attack began. Many guests jumped into the lake to escape the assault, he said.
The attack had been under way for more than four hours as dawn broke over Kabul.
Qargha Lake is one of Kabul’s few alternatives for weekend getaways. Restaurants and hotels that dot the shore are popular with Afghan government officials and businessmen, particularly on Friday nights.
Another police source also said there were an unknown number of families trapped inside the hotel, making police reluctant to launch a frontal attack out of fear that those inside would be caught up in the fighting.
“We are afraid if we take serious action and fight them it will result in losing lives among civilian families,” he said.
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.
Authorities are about midway through a transition process during which security responsibility is being handed from NATO-led foreign troops to Afghan forces.
Afghan police and soldiers have had security responsibility for Kabul for some time but there have been periodic attacks in the capital, with many blamed on the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network of militants. — Reuters