A Taliban truck bomb yesterday blasted through a hotel for foreigners in Kabul, triggering a seven-hour gun and grenade assault that highlighted growing insecurity in a city still reeling from its deadliest attack in 15 years.
The guests and staff of the Northgate Hotel escaped unharmed, but one policeman was killed after the truck bomber paved the way for two other armed insurgents to enter the heavily guarded facility near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The powerful bombing rocked much of the Afghan capital, leaving a huge muddy crater and piles of scorched debris strewn at the compound, which was previously attacked in July 2013.
“A truck bomb packed with explosives struck the outer wall of the hotel,” Kabul Police Chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said.
“One policeman lost his life and three others were wounded, but none of the hotel staff or guests were hurt. Three Taliban fighters including the truck bomber were killed,” he said.
The attack came days after the Islamic State group claimed twin bombings that left 80 people dead in Kabul, the deadliest attack in the city since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.
Afghan commandos set up a tight security cordon around the hotel as sporadic grenade explosions and gunfire shook the area after the attack began at about 1:30am.
Local TV station Tolo cited a source inside the facility as saying that all the staff and guests — including 11 foreigners — hunkered down in safe rooms throughout the night.
It added that NATO special forces soldiers had overseen the clearance operation at the Northgate, a luxury enclave that had been fortified with blast walls, watchtowers and sniffer dogs.
Tremors from the bombing rattled windows across the city. It also cut a power line that supplies electricity to half of Kabul, according to the city’s main utility.
“The blast was so strong that it startled everybody out of their beds,” Abdul Mohib, a resident of the neighborhood, told reporters. “The children were shocked. We all left the house screaming and shouting as our windows were shattered.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons blasted their way into the compound after the truck bomb went off.
The militants have been intensifying their annual summer offensive after a brief lull during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ended early last month.
The previous attack on the hotel compound also involved a Taliban truck bomb followed by a gun siege. Nine people were killed, including four Nepalese.
The Islamic State bombings on July 23 tore through crowds of minority Shiite Hazara protesters as they gathered to demand that a major power line be routed through the central province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan.
Afghan forces backed by US airstrikes have since intensified an offensive against Islamic State militants in their eastern provincial stronghold of Nangarhar.
The latest attacks in Kabul are a grim reminder of growing insecurity in Afghanistan, which has resulted in large civilian casualties.
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