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Four held in Kabul hotel attack

The Taliban warns of more strikes against foreigners in the Afghan capital. U.S. to send more Marines.

January 16, 2008|M. Karim Faiez and Henry Chu | Special to The Times

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Authorities Tuesday announced the arrest of four men in connection with a suicide attack on a luxury hotel that killed eight people and sent a chill through the ranks of foreign diplomats, aid workers and visiting dignitaries in this troubled capital.

Those arrested included the sole assailant to survive the brazen multi-pronged assault Monday evening on the Serena Hotel, said Amrullah Saleh, chief of the Afghan intelligence service. Another arrested man was suspected of being one of the plot's organizers, who allegedly provided explosives, suicide vests and other weapons to the three attackers.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which killed at least one American.

A spokesman for the group said Tuesday that its fighters would step up attacks on other places popular with foreigners. The Serena, Afghanistan's only five-star establishment, is a high-profile meeting spot for diplomats, visiting delegations and senior Afghan officials.

"We will target all these restaurants in Kabul where foreigners are eating," Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press by telephone. "We have jihadists in Kabul right now, and soon we will carry out more attacks against military personnel and foreigners."

Such threats are not uncommon from the Taliban, whose ability to fulfill them on a large scale is questionable. But suicide attacks, mostly directed at foreign and Afghan security forces, have risen sharply in Kabul in the last two years, puncturing the sense of safety of residents who once thought the capital largely immune to such assaults.

To deal with the Taliban's resurgence, the U.S. will bolster its troop deployment in Afghanistan by sending an additional 3,200 Marines, the Pentagon said Tuesday. That would increase the American military presence here by 10%.

Monday's attack on the Serena, in the city center, penetrated defenses that included blast walls, fortified barriers and 24-hour armed guards at the front gate.

Giving the first detailed account of how the assault was executed, Saleh said three attackers, one of whom was wearing a police uniform, swarmed the gate about 6:15 p.m., after darkness had fallen. They opened fire and killed a guard. Then one of the assailants detonated his explosives.

The other two men reached the hotel doors, where one of them also blew himself up, Saleh said. The remaining attacker, disguised as a police officer, barged into the lobby, opened fire on the people there, then moved on toward the hotel's gym and spa.

But "after killing a number of the guests [in the lobby], 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 attack lasted less than 20 minutes.

A raid early Tuesday on the Kabul home where the alleged attackers apparently stayed for a couple of nights yielded a videotape showing two of the men explaining what they were about to do. One of them declares in the Pashto language: "I am ready for the suicide attack, and I commit this suicide attack for God."

The owner of the home and his brother were arrested.

The fourth suspect taken into custody, identified only as Humayun, is believed to have helped plan the assault, furnished the weapons and brought the three attackers to the hotel, Saleh said. Humayun was arrested in eastern Afghanistan, as he reportedly tried to flee to Pakistan.

The mastermind is believed to be Mullah Abdullah, an ally of Sirajuddin Haqqani, a well-known militant thought to be living across the border in the rugged Pakistani town of Miran Shah.

Saleh said that three Americans were killed in the attack on the Serena, but the U.S. State Department has confirmed the death of only one American, whose name has not been released.

Also killed was a Norwegian journalist. At the time of the attack, a delegation of Norwegian officials, including the foreign minister, was meeting inside the hotel. The minister was unhurt.

henry.chu@latimes.com

Special correspondent Faiez reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Chu from New Delhi.

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