ISKP claims attack on Chinese-owned Kabul Longan Hotel - one of the attackers escapes
In this in-depth report, Afghan Witness analyses the available information surrounding the ISKP attack on the Kabul Longan Hotel on December 12, 2022. Investigators matched the alleged suicide bomber of another ISKP attack on the Kabul Military Airport on January 1, 2023, to an individual filmed escaping in the aftermath of the hotel attack.
2 Jan 2023
On December 12, 2022, at around 14:30 local time, gunfire and explosions were reported in Shahr-e Naw, Kabul. According to Reuters, two Taliban sources claimed that armed men opened fire inside a hotel where, according to AFP, Chinese businessmen often stay. Afghan Witness (AW) investigators identified the building as the Kabul Longan Hotel in the Shahr-e Naw area of Police District 4 (PD4).
The hotel is located in the northern area of Kabul, just over one kilometre from the former Embassy of the United Kingdom, as seen on the map below.
The hotel owner participated in an Al Jazeera documentary about Chinese entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, published on November 24, 2022. When interviewed, he claimed his hotel guests were “middle-class and elite Chinese people”. However, the documentary footage showed that the hotel had Afghan and Chinese staff members.
Various videos shared by users provide evidence of gunfire near the reported location. A witness of the incident allegedly told TOLOnews that several smaller explosions followed two initial explosions from inside the building. A video of one of the explosions was found on social media. The presence of fire on at least two floors before the explosions indicates that this was not the first blast.
Global Times, a Chinese state-affiliated media agency, contacted Wang Duanyong, an associate professor staying on the hotel's sixth floor at the time of the attack. According to his testimony, there was an explosion on the seventh and eighth floors. Duanyong claimed that he was told that three armed people entered the hotel and started shooting the hotel security staff, although he did not see them himself. According to his testimony, the gunfire lasted for about an hour, and he claimed to have heard more than 10 explosions within that time.
On December 16, 2022, a pro-ISIS telegram channel released the 369th edition of Al Naba, a weekly ISIS magazine. An article on the Kabul Longan Hotel attack claimed that the first point of attack was an explosion inside a Chinese party held within the building. According to the magazine, one of the attackers entered the room after the detonation and “finished off the wounded with his pistol fire”. It is unclear if a suicide bomber carried out this first explosion; however, it is noticeable that the magazine describes the rest of the events, referring to a singular attacker. The article claimed that “He [the attacker] was also able to blow up the doors of the rooms and reach the ninth floor, shooting everyone in his way from the Chinese hotel guests, praise be to Allah.”
Although it is not possible to verify how many guests or staff members were in the hotel at the time of the attack, it is clear that the hotel was not empty. At least four people, one of which is a Chinese national, can be seen hiding under an unidentified structure in a video published by FengShows, a Chinese news agency. Afterwards, an unidentified group of people was seen being escorted downstairs, seemingly by an armed Taliban fighter. Although it is impossible to see the people walking downstairs among the shattered glass and overall destruction, the person holding the recording device appears to be speaking in a Chinese language. According to Wang Wenbin, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, five Chinese citizens were injured.
Footage found on social media showed at least four different individuals using the hotel windows to [WARNING: GRAPHIC] escape. It is unclear whether they attempted to evade the gunfire or the fire, however, individual two was later identified as one of the two attackers.
Khalid Zadran, the Kabul Police spokesperson, confirmed the incident claiming that “a hotel building in the Shahrno area of Kabul city, where ordinary people live, was attacked by evil elements. Security forces have reached the area, and the raiders are currently being cleared.”
According to Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, "no foreigners were killed”, and “two foreign citizens were slightly injured when they tried to jump from a window”. The Taliban's numbers do not match the figures provided by Emergency NGO, a Kabul-based hospital. According to their statement, they received 21 casualties from the attack. Of those 21, three were dead on arrival. So it is possible, although unlikely, that all the casualties were Afghan citizens.
AW Investigators could confirm that one Taliban fighter was injured during the incident; however, at the time of writing this report, no further casualty numbers were independently verified. A photo shared by a pro-Taliban account showed around 15 armed Taliban fighters at the entrance of the building. It is unclear whether they entered the building or just blocked the exit. The presence of the Taliban at the entrance may have contributed to the decision of the various individuals seen climbing or jumping out of the hotel windows in an attempt to escape.
Attack claimed by ISKP
On December 12, 2022, several hours after the attack was carried out, ISKP claimed the attack on their Telegram channel, stating:
“By the grace of Allah Almighty, two inghimassis from among the Caliphate soldiers attacked a great hotel frequented by the diplomats and businessmen from the communist China, at (Kabul) city, as they detonated two preset explosive bags, the first targeted a ceremony of the Chinese, while the second targeted the guest reception hall on the first floor; then one of the inghimassis ambushed on the second floor and started throwing hand grenades upon the apostate Taliban members trying to ascend, meanwhile the other inghimassi started to ascend the upper floors exploding the apartment doors with sticky bombs, and firing at the descending Chinese, which resulted in the killing and wounding of at least 30 infidels and apostates, and the burning of parts of the hotel. Praise be to Allah Almighty.”
In addition to the written statement, ISKP released photos and a video of the attackers pledging their allegiance to the cause. The two men had their faces uncovered in the footage, which is unusual behaviour for ISKP members. This conduct and the fact that the statement refers to them as ‘inghimassis’ may indicate that there was a possibility of one or both the attackers planning on surviving the ordeal.
AW investigators analysed the photos and video of the ISKP members before the attack and compared them with hotel room photos found on a booking website. There are many similarities between them, thus pointing towards the video and photos taken from inside the hotel.
The ISKP members claiming their attack and recording their Bay’ah to the new Caliph of the Islamic state indicates the attack was well prepared. Al Naba’s edition 369, published on December 16, 2022, claimed to have exclusive information about the Kabul Longan Hotel attack. According to the magazine, the attackers were able to book a hotel room using forged ID cards. The article added that the weapons and explosives were brought into the hotel using “specific tricks” but did not provide further details. This could indicate a lack of security at the hotel or help from unknown individuals.
The photos also allowed AW investigators to analyse the weapons of choice. The attackers displayed a variety of small weapons and explosives. Among them were at least seven F-1 hand grenades, 13 packs of explosives, and two Makarov pistols with extra magazines, as seen in the figure below. It was interesting to note the absence of larger calibre weapons, a choice that may have been made due to larger weapons being noticed more easily.
The text underneath the photos identified the attackers as Abu Omar and Abdul-Jabbar, possibly pseudonymous.
The claim released by ISKP only mentions that two attackers carried out the operation; however, many reports released that day, including the official statement from the Taliban, claimed that three attackers carried out the operation. The reason for the inconsistency between the two stories is currently unknown. It is possible that the two attackers were assisted by someone who had access to the hotel, such as a staff member, or that the Taliban misidentified a victim as one of the perpetrators. AW investigators were unable to verify the presence of a third attacker.
ISKP attack Kabul Military Airport - attacker filmed escaping Longan Hotel
On January 1, 2023, an attack on the Kabul Military Airport resulted in at least seven visually confirmed [WARNING: GRAPHIC] casualties. On January 2, 2023, Aamaq News, an Islamic State publication, shared a photo of the perpetrator of the attack. The alleged suicide bomber was identified by AW investigators as one of the two attackers of the Kabul Longan Hotel on December 12, 2022. AW investigators identified the man as likely one of the four individuals escaping the hotel during the incident. He was recorded climbing down at least three floors of the hotel using the balconies until he reached the roof of a nearby structure.
The image below provides a comparison between a photo of one of the hotel attackers (left), an image of the airport attacker shared by Aamaq News, along with the claim of the attack (top right) and the clothing items of the man filmed climbing down the hotel (bottom right).
The ISKP claim, as seen below, stated:
“With the grace of Allah Almighty, one of the knights of martyrdom, brother Abdul-Jabbar, may Allah accept him, went towards a gathering of the apostate Taliban militia in front of the gate of the military section at Kabul airport yesterday. And that was while they were carrying out the procedures for checking the cards before entering the military section, when the martyrdom detonated his explosive belt in the midst of their crowd, which led to the death and injury of about 50 Taliban members, and praise be to Allah.”
The Taliban's official statement claimed three attackers were killed, however, there were only two ISKP members involved in the incident and one of them escaped, so it is unclear whether or not the Taliban misidentified two individuals or deliberately provided false information.
Possible reasons behind the hotel attack
On December 14, 2022, a pro-ISKP Twitter account created on the same day shared various photos taken from inside the hotel before the attack. The images featured various Chinese nationals at the hotel’s restaurant. The images appear to have been taken without the consent or knowledge of the people in them - they are blurry and taken from angles that suggest the photographer was attempting to conceal his camera. The images depict Chinese nationals sitting at the restaurant table, either eating or smoking. Some women appear to have their faces or hair uncovered and are wearing trousers. The images were accompanied by insulting language aimed at the people in the restaurant or the Taliban government for allowing “this obscenity”. Below are examples of some of the tweets accompanying the images.
The translations are as follows:
Top left: “Chinese prostitutes inside Kabul Longan Hotel”
Top right: “You donkeys are more cuckold than these, how can you defend yourself from the hemi-Chinese of cuckolds.”
Bottom left: “You who complain about the Islamic government, is it permissible in Islam for this obscenity and revelry of the infidels under your self-proclaimed Islamic government? Answer me.”
Bottom right: “Obscenity of women inside Kabul Longan Hotel. This is your Islamic country where infidels are having fun.”
The photos, which were taken prior to the attack, and the accompanying insults, could provide a motive for the targeting of the hotel. The user, an ISKP supporter, points out and condemns the morality of the people present at the restaurant as well as the Taliban for permitting the “obscenity and revelry of the infidels under [the] self-proclaimed Islamic government”.
The attack occured less than 24 hours after the meeting between Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban deputy foreign minister, and Wang Yu, the Chinese ambassador in Kabul. Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed on Twitter that the Chinese ambassador expressed his “satisfaction over the overall security in Afghanistan, calling on the Islamic Emirate to pay more attention to the security of the Chinese Embassy in Kabul.”
According to Ariana News, an Afghan news agency, Yu expressed concern regarding the safety of the Chinese embassy after the recent targeted attacks on the Pakistani and Russian embassies. Ariana News reported that Stanikzai assured Yu during the meeting that the “security of political representatives in Afghanistan is one of the priorities of the government of the Islamic Emirate”.
China targeted in ISKP propaganda
The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) have been known to target China and Chinese interests in the region through propaganda. ISKP has released several statements and videos denouncing China's presence in Afghanistan and calling for attacks against Chinese individuals and interests.
The Taliban’s diplomatic partnership with China has continuously been highlighted in propaganda materials, such as the English language Voice of Khorasan magazine, where they included a comprehensive takedown of China in issue 13 released on September 3, 2022. The article mainly focuses on China's economic success after joining the World Trade Organisation. However, it concludes with the threat that China will not be able to “protect themselves from the sharp knives of the Khilafah soldiers.”
China was also mentioned in more recent issues of the magazine, such as issue 17, published on November 2, 2022. In this edition, the writer accuses China of torturing millions of Uyghur Muslims, keeping them in concentration camps and robbing Muslim sisters of their honour. They accuse the Taliban of turning a blind eye to these injustices as part of the Muslim Ummah and claim that this is due to the Taliban’s selfish and nationalistic need to keep diplomatic relations with China intact.
These propaganda efforts are driven by ISKP's opposition to China's growing presence and influence in Afghanistan, particularly concerning the Belt and Road Initiative. ISKP views China's efforts to develop infrastructure and economic projects in the region as a threat to its interests and ideology. As a result, the group has sought to undermine and attack Chinese interests to disrupt and undermine these projects and the Taliban's relations with China.
Other ISKP attacks against foreign citizens
The incident at the Kabul Longan Hotel marks the third ISKP-claimed attack targeting foreign citizens on Afghan soil in the past four months.
On September 5, 2022, ISKP claimed an attack in front of the Russian embassy in Kabul. Although the ISKP statement claimed that over 25 people were injured and killed as a result of the suicide attack, only four were reportedly admitted to the Emergency NGO hospital.
On December 2, 2022, armed attackers targeted Ubaid ul-Rehman Nizamani, the Pakistani Head of Mission, in the Pakistan Embassy compound in Kabul, PD4. The ambassador was not injured, but his bodyguard was shot twice. ISKP claimed the attack and released photos as evidence of their actions.