At least a dozen Afghan civilians were killed in a large-scale insurgent attack on a lakeside hotel on the outskirts of Kabul Friday morning, officials said.
While the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the Nato-led foreign mission blamed the Haqqani network and, indirectly, Pakistan.
Four Taliban militants equipped with suicide vests and rifles stormed the hotel Spoghmai at Lake Qargha late Thursday evening, one of the busiest nights for the hotel's restaurant.
They initially killed the two guards at the gate, took some 40 civilians hostage in a siege which lasted about 12 hours, and ultimately killed as many as 12 other Afghan civilians.
The last group of 13 civilians was rescued at 11am on Friday, 12 hours after the Taliban launched the attack, said Kabul police chief General Ayub Salangi.
Of the four gunmen, one blew himself up and the other three were killed by security forces, according to officials.
While the Taliban publicly claimed responsibility for the attack, the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) blamed its offshoot, the Haqqani network, and also pointed a finger at Pakistan.
"Afghan National Security Forces and coalition military sources acknowledge that this attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans and blatantly violate Afghan sovereignty from the safety of Pakistan,” Isaf commander General John Allen said in a released statement.
The Taliban's statement said Nato and foreign embassies personnel, along with their Afghan colleagues, were staying at the hotel - a place, the Taliban said, used for “prostitution and parties”.
It was later determined that no foreigners were at the hotel at the time, which is frequented by middle class Afghans.
Afghan forces launched a pre-dawn operation on Friday to deal with a hostage-taking situation.
"We have to be careful and move smartly to ensure civilians aren't hurt," Gen Salangi told TOLOnews earlier.
TOLOnews reporter Wali Arian, who was at the scene, said the whole area was cordoned off from the early morning. Foreign troops were also deployed, and Isaf helicopters were flying overhead, but the operation was carried out by the Afghan forces.
"It's a pure civilian target," said Ahmad Samim, who owns a food shop by the lake. "The area is not popular for foreigners at all, especially for staying overnight. I am sure the Taliban understand that."Several people, including women and children, were injured in the attack. One wounded woman, who didn't want to be named, told TOLOnews that she didn't think she would survive the attack.
Some Afghans have seen this incident as a shift in both the Taliban's military tactics and broader goals.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack saying in a statement released by his office that it "proves the defeat of the enemy".
Afghan blogger Ahmad Shuja said it was "a turning point".
"The rationale from the Taliban sounds awfully like what they used for their notorious vice and virtue police during the glory says of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The only difference is, this attack is more sinister and has large-scale terrorist aims," Shuja posted on his blog.
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