Afghan attack left mass of bodies at luxury hotel

June 30, 2011

By DEB RIECHMANN and RAHIM FAIEZ Associated Press © 2011 The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Hotel guest Abdul Zahir Faizada watched as a uniformed gunman shoved a man to the ground and shot him to death at point-blank range. Suddenly, gunfire erupted and another assailant blew himself up.

By the time the siege of the luxury Inter-Continental Hotel ended Wednesday, 20 people lay dead — including nine attackers, all of whom wore suicide-bomber vests — and one of Kabul’s premier landmarks was left a grisly scene of bodies, shrapnel and shattered glass.

It was one of the biggest and most complex attacks ever orchestrated in the Afghan capital and appeared designed to show that the insurgents are capable of striking even in the center of power at a time when U.S. officials are speaking of progress in the nearly 10-year war.

The brazen attack by militants with explosives, anti-aircraft weapons, guns and grenade launchers dampened hopes that a peace settlement can be reached with the Taliban and raised doubt that Afghan security forces are ready to take the lead from foreign forces in the nearly decade-long war.

Faizada, the leader of the local council in Herat province who was in Kabul to attend a conference on that very issue, had just finished dinner at the hotel restaurant and was walking to his room on the second floor around 10 p.m. Tuesday when the militants struck. He said he saw five or six people in security-type uniforms clashing with the hotel staff and guards.

“Suddenly I saw this guy in a uniform pushing a man to the ground. He shot him dead,” Faizada said.

For the rest of the night, Faizada and the mayor of Herat stayed locked in their darkened hotel room, whispering into cell phones with friends back in Herat who were giving them news updates of what was happening during the standoff.

The attack came just a week after President Barack Obama said he would start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan next month. The suicide bombers struck on the eve of a two-day conference on transferring the responsibility for security across the nation to Afghan forces between now and the end of 2014.

The U.S.-led military coalition, Afghan government and Ashraf Ghani, chairman of the transition commission, all vowed that the Afghan army and police would be ready in time.

“Such incidents will not stop us for transitioning security of our country,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report circulated Wednesday in the Security Council that he was worried about attacks on civilians as the transition to greater Afghan leadership begins.

“Persistent insecurity has brought about a steady rise in civilian casualties,” he wrote, especially women and children “indiscriminately affected by the conflict.”

A man named Jawid, who was staying at the hotel when the attack occurred, isn’t convinced the Afghan forces will ever be ready.

“Where is the security in this country?” asked Jawid, who uses only one name. “Where is the security in this hotel?”

Jawid escaped by jumping out the window of his room on the first floor of the Inter-Continental, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the capital.

When the siege was over just after dawn Wednesday, 11 civilians were dead, including a judge from Logar province’s court of appeals, five hotel workers and three Afghan policemen, according to Afghan intelligence officials. The Interior Ministry said a Spanish citizen was among the dead. The ministry said 18 people were wounded in the attack — 13 civilians and five policemen.

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