The takeover of a hotel near Kabul by heavily armed Taliban gunmen has ended. Kabul police and other Afghan security forces backed by US-led NATO troops stormed the Spozhmai Hotel in the Lake Qargha area, freeing the remaining 45 civilian hostages. At least 20 people were killed in the operation, including civilians, three hotel guards, a police officer, and all five Taliban militants, reports the BBC. Dozens of guests had been taken hostage by the militants, who were armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. An AFP photographer describes the scene as riddled with bullets. "I saw the bodies of some fighters and their bodies were in bits and pieces. There are a lot of bullets casings here, lots of them."
The Spozhmai, a favorite of wealthy Afghans and foreigners, was targeted because it's used by Westerners and for "different types of debauchery and anti-Islamic ceremonies," said a Taliban spokesman. Gunmen moved in last night because of intelligence that the hotel would be hosting a large number of "embassy diplomats from foreign countries" invited by Afghan officials, the spokesman added. Some guests jumped out of windows into the lake outside to save themselves, reports CNN. Afghan and NATO forces waited until first light to move in. "We did not take any action in the dark because of the risk to civilians," said Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi.