Thu, 30 Jun 2011 09:16:09 GMT

Afghan attack left mass of bodies at luxury hotel

Kabul: 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.

Afghan attack left mass of bodies at luxury hotel

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 US 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 pm on 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.

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