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Rocket Explodes Outside Afghan Hotel

November 23, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ A powerful rocket exploded near one of Kabul’s few upscale hotels on Saturday night, knocking some guests from their restaurant chairs and shattering windows across the lobby and in many bedrooms. No injuries were reported.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack, has raised concerns about security in Kabul, where rocket and mortar attacks have been fairly rare since the fall of the Taliban regime two years ago.

Security is of concern ahead of next month’s loya jirga, or grand council, where the new constitution is to be ratified. Some 500 delegates are to take part in the meeting, which is to be held near the hotel and is considered a key step in Afghanistan’s recovery from a quarter-century of war.

Police and soldiers from the 5,000-strong NATO-led peace force rushed to the International Hotel after the blast, and guarded its front door, as some guests quickly checked out in fear of another attack.

The explosion sent glass raining into the lobby and many guestrooms. The hotel is often used by foreign businessmen and journalists.

``A rocket crater has been identified,″ said Squadron Leader Paul Rice, a spokesman for the peacekeepers, called the International Security Assistance Force.

Maj. Kevin Arata, another spokesman for the peacekeepers, said the blast caused ``some minor structural damage, but no injuries.″

Taliban insurgents have launched an increasingly bold campaign throughout the country in recent months, often targeting relief agencies and coalition forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan. But attacks in the capital are relatively rare.

Saturday’s attack came six days after a French refugee worker, Bettina Goislard, was gunned down south of Kabul, becoming the first international U.N. worker killed in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban.

Intercontinental director Arif Marcheen said the hotel has 140 rooms and it was nearly full. He said he had no idea who would have attacked the hotel.

``Suddenly the lights went out, the explosion hit and the building shook,″ he told The Associated Press. ``All the glass in the lobby shattered, but no one has been injured.″

He said a 90-foot wall of glass windows rained into the lobby, and another hotel official, Albert Bester, said that 60 percent of the windows on the side of the hotel nearest the blast had been blown out.

Mike Breckon, an official of the Asian Development Bank who was staying at the hotel, said he had just sat down to dinner with colleagues when the blast went off.

``The curtains stopped the flying glass from injuring us,″ he said. ``The room filled with smoke and some of the lights went out.″

Warren Young, a security officer at the bank who also was staying at the hotel, said some guests were knocked from their chairs at the restaurant and others hit the floor.

``We believe that we can now expect Kabul to become dangerous,″ said Young. ``The loya jirga, which will be held nearby, will make this the biggest show in Afghanistan.″

But according to Rice, the 5,000-strong peacekeeping force had no plans to boost security in the capital. ``We are already at a very high level of security,″ he said. ``I don’t think upping the security status would gain us anything.″

The last major incident in Kabul occurred in June, when four German peacekeepers were killed and 29 wounded in a suicide attack on their bus.

Two Canadian peacekeepers also were killed in a land mine explosion on the outskirts of Kabul in October, but it was unclear if they were victims of a deliberate attack.

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