Taliban Kill 18 in Attack on Hotel

Heavily armed Taliban fighters have killed 18 people - mostly civilians - in an attack on a lakeside hotel just north of Kabul.

The insurgents killed the hotel security guards then began firing at guests.

Some of them escaped, others were held hostage as the attackers fought Afghan security forces for 12 hours.All five attackers were shot dead by midday yesterday.

A string of attacks this week suggest the Taliban is pushing hard with its summer offensive rather than waiting for international forces to leave in two years' time.

The attack on the hotel at Qargha Lake, a half-hour drive from the capital, was a reminder the Taliban can still hit close to the seat of the Afghan government.

Fourteen Afghan civilians, three security guards and a police officer died in the attack, said Mohammad Zahir of Kabul police.

Mr Zahir said: "Some of the guests jumped from the window into the hotel yard. They were hiding under trees or any safe place they could find. Three of the guests jumped into the lake and hid in the water."

The attackers were armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosive-laden vests.

They stormed the hotel before midnight and by mid-morning were still fighting Afghan forces backed by international troops. Black smoke rose from the two-storey hotel and Nato helicopters circled overhead.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said they attacked the hotel because foreigners there were drinking alcohol and participating in other activities banned by Islam.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked US and Afghan forces at a checkpoint in a busy market in the east, killing 21 people, including three US soldiers. The same day, seven Afghan civilians were killed by a roadside bomb.

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