AP via Yahoo! : Afghan hotel attacker wore cop uniform

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Afghan hotel attacker wore cop uniform

By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer | January 15, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's intelligence service arrested a man wearing a police uniform suspected of taking part in a multipronged attack on Kabul's main luxury hotel that killed eight, officials said Tuesday.

A militant leader believed to be based in Pakistan was accused of masterminding the assault, which left dead at least one American and a journalist from Norway.

Amrullah Saleh, the head of the Afghan intelligence service, said three militants stormed the Serena Hotel on Monday evening. A guard shot and killed one attacker at the gate to the hotel's parking lot, which triggered his suicide vest.

A second attacker blew himself up near the entrance to the hotel's lobby, and the third attacker made it inside the hotel and shot his way through the lobby and toward the gym, Saleh said.

He alleged the attack was masterminded by Siraj Haqqani, a well-known militant leader thought to be based in Pakistan's tribal area in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. The U.S. military has a $200,000 bounty on Haqqani.

Saleh showed a picture taken from the hotel's security cameras showing a gunman in a police uniform inside the hotel's lobby, apparently the third attacker. He was apprehended 15 to 20 minutes after the attack began, he said.

"The third person, after killing a number of the guests, maybe he changed his mind for some reason, he didn't detonate himself," Saleh said. "He changed his clothes and later when security forces searched the premises, he was arrested."

The official spokesman of the Kabul Serena said Tuesday the hotel was closed for repairs, including damage caused by bullets and grenades.

"This will certainly affect our business," said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified citing company policy. "The hotel was helping drive business in Afghanistan by creating a safe haven for international businessmen that wanted to invest and work here. This will dent that confidence."

There was confusion over the identities of the dead. Saleh said three Americans and a French woman were among those killed, but the U.S. Embassy said only one American citizen died. The French embassy was not aware of any French casualties.

The Serena spokesman said three hotel employees and two guards were killed during the attack. The Philippines Foreign Affairs Department said a Filipina spa supervisor wounded in the attack died on Tuesday.

Norway's foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, was to cut short a visit to Afghanistan following the attack.

Carsten Thomassen, 38, a reporter for the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet, was hit by gunfire in the attack at the Serena Hotel, and died from his wounds later Monday at a Czech field hospital, Dagbladet news editor Peter Raaum told The Associated Press.

A Norwegian Foreign Ministry employee was also wounded in the attack at the hotel, where the Norwegian Embassy was holding a meeting. Foreign Ministry spokesman Anders Rikter said the employee, whose name was not released, remained in a serious but stable condition.

Rikter said Stoere would meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, but is canceling the rest of his trip, which began Monday and was to last through Thursday, because of Thomassen's death.

Bo Asplund, the top U.N. representative in the country, said the attack was a matter of great concern, representing "a deliberate targeting of foreign guests and Afghan civilians."

"The international community has been present here for many years, enjoying the hospitality and generosity of its Afghan hosts," Asplund said in a statement. "Its work is driven by the shared belief that peace and progress must prevail over war and suffering. This was an attack on those values, and a senseless crime."

Associated Press reporters Amir Shah and Fisnik Abrashi contributed to this report.