South Asia

Nato 'kills senior Haqqani militant in Afghanistan'

Smoke billows from the Intercontinental hotel during a battle between Afghan security forces and suicide bombers and Taliban insurgents in Kabul June 29, 2011.
Image caption Smoke billows from the Intercontinental Hotel after the Tuesday night attack

Nato forces in Afghanistan say they have killed a senior militant they suspect of involvement in the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.

Ismail Jan died in an air strike in the eastern province of Paktia on Wednesday, the alliance said.

BBC correspondents say he is a leading commander in the Haqqani network, which is linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Nato and Afghan intelligence believe Haqqani members helped mount the hotel attack, which left 22 people dead.

The Interior Ministry says nine attackers were killed as well as 11 civilians and two police.

There has so far been no independent confirmation of Ismail Jan's death.

'Precision air strike'

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the hotel attack, but Nato said it was carried out jointly with the Haqqani network.

The group has bases in the tribal region of Waziristan in Pakistan, but focuses its attacks over the border in Afghanistan.

It has been accused of carrying out a number of high-profile gun and bomb attacks in Afghanistan in recent years.

Afghan officials also say the network has close ties to Pakistani intelligence services.

A statement from the Nato-led Isaf force said Jan was suspected of providing "material support" to the hotel attackers in Kabul.

It said he had been killed in what it called a "precision air strike" in Gardez district.

"Ismail Jan was the deputy to the senior Haqqani commander inside Afghanistan, Haji Mali Khan. Jan and several Haqqani fighters were killed in the strike," the statement said.

It added that he had been tracked down after information from Afghan officials, citizens and "disenfranchised insurgents".

Ismail Jan operated in and around the Khost-Gardez pass, a rugged and heavily forested area near the Pakistan border, and was blamed for leading attacks on Nato and Afghan targets.

Securing the porous and volatile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has presented a major challenge for security forces in both countries.

On Thursday General Aminullah Amarkhel, the border police commander for eastern Afghanistan, resigned. He said Kabul and Nato had failed to act after Pakistani rockets were fired into Afghan territory.

Last week Afghan officials accused the Pakistani army of firing hundreds of rockets over the border. Pakistan denies this but says a few stray rockets may have crossed the border as the army battled militants in the area.

The army says that in recent weeks insurgents have crossed over from Afghanistan and attacked villages in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Many of the militant groups along the frontier are closely linked.


In Kabul, meanwhile, the BBC has seen photos showing at least two of the Intercontinental attackers wearing police uniforms, raising questions about whether the militants received inside help.

In other photos large amounts of rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and bullets were left behind by the dead insurgents. Investigators want to know how they got their weapons inside the hotel.

Previous attacks in Kabul and elsewhere have led intelligence officials to conclude that the Haqqani network has penetrated Afghan security at the highest level.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says several police officials are now being questioned over what many see as glaring security lapses at one of the capital's apparently most secure locations.

During the attack, special forces from New Zealand were injured when Afghan national police mistakenly fired at them.

"They were using the F-word after they came out, we apologised to them," a senior police official told our correspondent.

Afghan forces are also accused of being slow to arrive on the scene once Tuesday night's attack had started.

Nato air support had to be called in before calm was finally restored.

Correspondents say the Intercontinental, which is not part of the international hotel chain of the same name, is one of Kabul's most heavily guarded hotels.

But a security ministry official told the BBC that the militants could have exploited a loophole in security caused by renovation work.

Kabul - the scene of many attacks over recent years - has been relatively stable so far this year, although violence has increased across the country since the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan on 2 May, and the start of the Taliban's "spring offensive".

In January 2008, militants stormed the capital's most popular luxury hotel, the Serena, and killed eight people, including an American, a Norwegian and a woman from the Philippines.