A carefree birthday party and night out to celebrate the start of the Afghan weekend were reduced to destruction and butchery when Taliban gunmen stormed a lakeside hotel, opening fire indiscriminately on wealthy revellers.
Guests at a luxury Afghan hotel fled in terror as five armed Taliban suicide bombers burst in and sparked a brutal 12-hour gun battle.
Seventeen people were shot dead as scores of hostages were taken at the exclusive Spozhmai resort, on the outskirts of Kabul and overlooking Qargha Lake.
The Islamic extremists said the venue was a ‘centre for prostitution’ and ‘debauchery’.
Five militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades, suicide bomb vests and machine guns attacked the hotel around midnight on Thursday night.
They burst into a party and shot dead hotel guards. Four civilians, three hotel guards and a policeman were killed in the battle. All five attackers were also killed.
The attack, quickly claimed by the Afghan Taliban, again showed the ability of insurgents to stage high-profile raids.
Many terrified guests jumped into the lake in the darkness to escape the carnage, Afghan officials and residents said.
Up to 300 people had been inside the hotel when the attack began.
Sediq Sediqqi, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, said, “Insurgent Taliban were using civilians as human shields to protect themselves. And even this morning around 50 locals were still held as hostages.”
Earlier, elite Afghan quick-response police backed by NATO troops freed at least 35 hostages in an operation that only began in earnest after sunrise to help security forces avoid civilian deaths in night-time confusion.
NATO attack helicopters could be seen over the single-storey hotel building and a balcony popular with guests for its sunset views, while a pall of smoke rose into air.
The Taliban complained wealthy Afghans and foreigners used the hotel, about six miles from the centre of Kabul, for ‘prostitution’ and ‘wild parties’ ahead of the religious day holiday.
Launching their annual offensive this spring, the Taliban threatened to attack more government officials and rich Afghans.
General Mohammad Zahir, head of the Kabul police investigation unit, said, “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.”
Attacks in Kabul
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. Militants also killed eight people in an attack on the upscale Intercontinental hotel in Kabul in June 2011.