Afghan Forces Retake Control of Kabul Hotel After Deadly Siege

The Taliban, usually quick to claim attacks, issued a statement declaring its responsibility 14 hours after the assault began. At least two senior Afghan officials said the country’s intelligence agency had reports that the Haqqani Network, a brutal arm of the Taliban, had planned the violence.

“The attack was carried out by #Pakistan based Haqqani Terrorist Network,” Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan government’s chief executive, said on Twitter.

Insurgents armed with grenades and firearms stormed the hotel around 9 p.m. on Saturday, setting off an explosion and a fire. Most of the rooms were occupied, with at least 100 guests of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology staying there for a conference.

The attack comes amid intensifying violence around the country. In the northern province of Balkh, which has been at the center of a recent political showdown with the central government, at least 18 people were killed in an attack by the Taliban late Saturday, most of them members of the local police force, officials there said.

Sarajuddin Abed, the governor of Sholgara district, which includes the site of that assault, said that initial information suggested members of the local police had been poisoned before they were attacked, but that the incident was still under investigation.

In Kabul, helicopters and drones circled above the hotel for hours while guests hid inside, many cowering under beds or in toilet stalls. Television footage showed guests trying to climb out of windows with the help of makeshift ropes.

Photo

A man trying to escape from the hotel.

Credit
Omar Sobhani/Reuters

In a room on the second floor of the 200-room hotel, Haji Saheb Nazar, 45, an employee of Afghan Telecom, spent the night huddled in a bathroom, afraid to leave. After sunrise, he spoke on his cellphone in a whisper, nearly in tears. “It’s still going on, upstairs and downstairs,” he said. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

“My family is so worried about me, and they keep calling me,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on outside and how many of them are in the hotel. But if they are only four, why can’t police kill or arrest them?”

Another guest, Abdul Rauf, 48, said he had run through the halls of the hotel as an armed man was firing.

“I don’t know if he was the police or a suicide attacker, but he was shooting,” he said by cellphone while hiding under the bed of his hotel room. “I escaped to my room and locked the door. I heard shooting and more than three explosions. Two rooms were on fire and smoke came into my room. I couldn’t breathe until I broke a window with my chair.”

This is not the first time a popular hotel has been the target of an attack in a city that increasingly feels barricaded with blast walls that grow ever taller.

The Intercontinental Hotel was attacked by insurgents in 2011; 21 people were killed, including nine assailants, and many others wounded before the Afghan authorities, with substantial assistance from international military forces, managed to bring an end to the violence.

Other hotels have also been targeted. The Serena Hotel, a luxury hotel in Kabul, has been struck three times, including an attack in 2014 that killed nine. In that assault, Taliban gunmen hid small pistols in the soles of their shoes to evade heavy security, then entered the restaurant and killed guests at close range, including a well-known Afghan journalist, his wife and all but one of his children. The events led to an unusual apology for what the Taliban called a “mistake.”

In 2015, the Park Palace hotel in downtown Kabul was attacked, killing at least 15 people, including one American.

Soon after sunrise on Sunday, there were glimmers of hope in the capital. Mr. Rauf told a reporter that the authorities had reached his room and taken him to a safe area they had set up on the first floor, where he joined 30 other guests while security operations continued throughout the building.

“We tried to proceed with caution to avoid harming guests who hid in the rooms and locked the doors against the attackers,” said Maj. Gen. Afzal Aman, commander of the Kabul Garrison, which is responsible for security in the capital.

Mukhtar, 50, an Afghan who uses only one name, spent the night on the street outside the hotel, repeatedly calling his 24-year-old son, Zaiurahman, who works inside as a security guard. He got no answer until shortly after sunrise on Sunday.

“He said he was safe. I was really happy and cried,” Mukhtar said. “From midnight until now I’ve been waiting here, and now I just want to hug him and kiss him when he comes out.”

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