Pair ar­rested in deadly at­tack at Afghan ho­tel

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Ali M. Lat­ifi Lat­ifi is a spe­cial correspondent.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice said Wed­nes­day that it had ar­rested two men, in­clud­ing one em­ployed by a for­eign aid agency, on sus­pi­cion of plan­ning an at­tack on a Kabul ho­tel that left 14 peo­ple dead last month.

The Na­tional Di­rec­torate of Se­cu­rity said in a state­ment that the men were work­ing for the Haqqani net­work, a Tal­iban-al­lied group based in Pak­istan, when they were ap­pre­hended this week in Kabul.

One of the men, iden­ti­fied by the agency as Ab­dul Wakil, was work­ing in the Kabul head­quar­ters of the Paris-based aid agency Madera, which has been ac­tive in Afghanistan since 1988.

Although at­tacks by Afghan sol­diers against na­tional and for­eign se­cu­rity forces have taken place fre­quently in re­cent years, aid work­ers at­tack­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian col­leagues has been rare.

In a video con­fes­sion the agency re­leased on its Face­book page, Wakil and an as­so­ci­ate, Ghu­lam Aziz, said they were op­er­at­ing un­der su­per­vi­sion of Qari Ab­dul­lah, a Peshawar, Pak­istan­based com­man­der of the Haqqani net­work.

The two men said they helped the lone gun­man in the at­tack gain ac­cess to the Park Palace ho­tel and guest­house in Kabul.

Aziz, orig­i­nally from the eastern prov­ince of War­dak, pro­vided a blue­print of the ho­tel to the Peshawar-based plan­ners, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said.

Of­fi­cials with knowl­edge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion said that the gun­man, whom they iden­ti­fied as Edris, had been staying at the Park Palace as a guest in the days be­fore the at­tack. The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­tel­li­gence mat­ters.

Seven Afghan and for­eign aid work­ers were among those shot to death in the at­tack that was claimed by Tal­iban in­sur­gents and drew in­ter­na­tional out­rage.

De­spite the con­fes­sions, one of­fi­cial said in­ves­ti­ga­tors had still not de­ter­mined how one man armed with a sin­gle pis­tol was able to carry out the at­tack and re­main in­side the guest­house com­pound for sev­eral hours even af­ter Afghan se­cu­rity forces had poured into the area.

“He fin­ished off one round of 16 bul­lets be­fore reload­ing, but again, how did some­one in a ho­tel full of dozens of guests man­age to reload with­out be­ing ap­pre­hended or shot?” the of­fi­cial said.

The gun­man was even­tu­ally shot to death by se­cu­rity forces.

In a state­ment af­ter the at­tack, the Tal­iban said it targeted the ho­tel, which is fre­quented by in­ter­na­tional aid work­ers, be­cause it be­lieves “ev­ery for­eigner from an in­vad­ing coun­try, es­pe­cially NATO,” is con­sid­ered an en­emy. Yet the at­tack may have missed big­ger targets, be­cause the Turk­ish and In­dian am­bas­sadors were ex­pected to at­tend a con­cert at the ho­tel that even­ing, of­fi­cials said.

“There was a sense that we nar­rowly dodged a diplo­matic night­mare,” the of­fi­cial said.

The at­tack, which came shortly af­ter pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions be­gan be­tween Afghan of­fi­cials and Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Qatar, dealt a set­back to ef­forts by Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani to ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment to end fight­ing — and un­der­mined the Tal­iban’s own claims about whom it is fight­ing.

Qayyum Kochai, an Afghan of­fi­cial who at­tended the talks, said Tal­iban en­voys in­sisted that “ban­dits” and or­ga­nized crime groups were com­mit­ting at­tacks for which in­sur­gents were be­ing blamed. The en­voys said the Tal­iban’s only en­e­mies were the “for­eign oc­cu­piers” and the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan.

Wakil’s re­ported in­volve­ment with Madera is likely to once again ig­nite dis­cus­sions about the risks for aid agen­cies op­er­at­ing in Afghanistan.

Ac­cord­ing to the Agency Co­or­di­nat­ing Body for Afghan Re­lief and De­vel­op­ment, an Afghan group that ad­vo­cates for aid or­ga­ni­za­tions, the first six months of 2015 saw 26 aid work­ers killed, 17 wounded and 40 ab­ducted.

This week, nine work­ers of the Czech-based non­govern­men­tal agency Peo­ple in Need were killed in an at­tack in the north­ern prov­ince of Balkh, the most lethal as­sault on an aid or­ga­ni­za­tion this year.

In April 2014, med­i­cal work­ers in Kabul were shocked when five for­eign col­leagues were shot, three fa­tally, by a guard at a hos­pi­tal run by the char­ity group Cure In­ter­na­tional.

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