KABUL, Afghanistan - To the people of Afghanistan's teeming, dusty capital, sparkling blue Lake Karga on the city's outskirts has long been a tranquil haven.
But in a brazen evening attack, a team of Taliban assailants turned the quiet lakeshore into a scene of horrors, storming a popular hotel, seizing dozens of hostages and killing 18 people, most of them diners relaxing over a late-night meal.
The bloody 11-hour siege of the Spozhmai resort, the latest in a series of high-profile insurgent strikes around the capital in recent months, ended Friday when elite Afghan police supported by NATO troops killed the last of the four attackers.
While NATO and the country's government hailed Afghan forces for preventing even more fatalities, the attack was a graphic demonstration that insurgents can still strike seemingly at will. Their reach leaves many Afghans jittery and fearful as the U.S.-led NATO force begins pulling out.
In claiming responsibility for the attack, the Taliban described the hotel as a "hub of obscenity and vulgarity," a description that harked back to the deeply conservative movement's five-year rule over Afghanistan before being dislodged by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
The victims were also apparently targeted for who they are: well-educated, affluent and cosmopolitan, representing an elite class generally supportive of President Hamid Karzai's government and the presence of Western troops in Afghanistan. Targeting them was explicit warning that once the NATO force is gone, they will be left defenseless.
The Afghan government issued a blistering statement blaming "brainwashed terrorists" based in Pakistan for the attack. Gen. John Allen, the U.S. Marine who commands Western troops in Afghanistan, said the assault "bears the signature" of the Haqqani network, a Taliban offshoot with its home base in Pakistan's tribal areas.