KABUL, Afghanistan -- A bloody 11-hour siege of a lakeside resort ended Friday morning when the last of a four-member team of Taliban assailants was killed, Afghan police said. Sixteen hotel guests and workers, three guards and a police officer also died in the attack, the latest in a series of complex strikes in and near the capital by insurgents.
The once-picturesque hotel on the shores of Lake Karga lay in ruins, its façade blasted away and shattered glass and shell casings littering the ground. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on the resort -- popular with Kabul's wealthy -- citing what it called immoral behavior by guests.
Gunmen armed with heavy weapons and wearing suicide vests seized control of the Spozhmai hotel just outside the Afghan capital shortly before midnight, setting off an hours-long firefight. They burst into a dining hall packed with several hundred celebrants attending a private party.
Many were cut down as they tried to flee; some saved themselves by jumping out windows and wading into the lake. One boy of about 8 was led away with his face bleeding; he told police he survived by huddling under a table.
"They were shooting everyone," said a shaken waiter, who also survived by hiding.
NATO troops, including special-operations forces from New Zealand, aided Afghan police, but Western military officials were careful to characterize the rescue operation as Afghan-led. A similar attack last summer on a landmark Kabul hotel ended after international troops intervened, providing helicopters and commandos.
Even with security, the hotel presented a classic "soft" target. Thursday evening is the start of the Afghan weekend, and families often flock to picnic on the shores of the lake, a refuge from the dusty, teeming capital.
Despite the claim of responsibility from the Taliban, suspicion fell on the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, a Taliban offshoot, which has staged similar high-profile attacks in Kabul, including a lengthy siege of the diplomatic district earlier this year.
-- Laura King and Aimal Yaqubi
Photo: Afghan special forces stand outside the Spozhmai hotel on Lake Karga, site of an attack that began before midnight Thursday. Credit: Ahmad Jamshid / Associated Press