Barnett R. Rubin
It was 5:30 PM [Monday January 14, Kabul time, 13:30 GMT] and I was wrapping up my day in the office. My cousin Arif, my office manager, and I decided to head off to the Serena Hotel for a classy 5- star dinner, a rare commodity in Kabul. My two drivers were out driving the employees home and so Arif decided to drive and we left without a driver which may have saved their lives.
We arrived at Serena Hotel, on the outside gate. The same friendly faces, all 4-6 guards posted outside, one a good friendly face Aghai Sultan always gives me a friendly wave and waves my car in after checking the vehicle.
Everything smooth, and everything is normal. We walk to the Restaurant section and they have not yet setup the final buffet, the friendly hostess tell me we need 15 minutes. I look at Arif and I say come on lets take a walk until things are setup. I head back walk into the lobby see a few friendly faces. I sat down in the lobby a few minutes, and Arif said hey lets wait here until time is ready. Then I remembered the nice teahouse on the left side of Serena called the Chai Khana. So we went for a quick cup of tea in the Chai Khana.
We sat down, tea in hand and then it began. All of sudden BOOM! A suicide bomber dressed as police had walked into the security X-ray booth with a vest of explosives attached on his chest and blew himself up killing half of the guards in the booth.The windows began shaking, I quickly think hey that was a bomb but the Serena Glass is thick so we don't know if its close or far. Usually a bomb like that I would estimate it was 5 blocks away then all of a sudden BOOM again and then rapid gunfire. The guards killed 1 attacker and but two more get inside the main lobby of the Serena.
Everyone gets up, and starts getting back into a slip door, that connects to a second lounge. I quickly move looking around thinking very quick anything could happen. I don't hear anything I walk back to the original spot I was in looking for some signal of what was happening. I look through the glass outside and see a Corolla turn and wrap to the front of the Serena Door and then the driver jumps outs and throws himself on the ground. The Corolla hits the wall of the front glass doors.Then I just hear hundreds of bullets shooting, I hit the ground because the bullets at this point sound extremely close to me. I start crawling through the Chai Khana on my knees and I get back to the second lounge in the slip door.
The Serena worker is quickly telling me to move and get to the basement as soon as possible. Grenades are being thrown and the lobby is covered in a thick smoke that no one can see. I hear more explosions, one Serena employees is being carried past me covered in blood by two other Serena employees. His hand is is covered in blood. His face is covered in blood. I am hearing gunshots in the lobby, the terrorists have infiltrated the lobby and are now shooting anyone.
I turn on the afterburners and start cutting up the hall following a trail of blood leading to the basement. Everyone is running as fast as possible. I lost my cousin Arif in this mess. I get down two flights of steps in the secure basement of the Serena where I see Arif. We greet each other, and I check to see he isn't injured. I asked him are you OK, he is fine, we quickly move to the deeper portion of the basement. Amongst us is the Norwegian Foreign Minister, and his security contingent. Also is the UN Human Rights activist Sima Samar [she is Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the Sudan], also a former Women's Minister of the Karzai Administration [and Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission]. We get in the cafeteria and more Afghan politicians are amongst us, with Europeans and foreigners. Karzai''s oldest brother is also trapped with us and he is pacing frantically as we are unaware of what is going on in the lobby. We can hear shots and we can hear booms, but the remaining security personnel is posted at the doors and is ready to shoot at will.
More people come to the basement, as the terrorists have infiltrated the gym and spa area. They have shot dead the spa manager, Zina a very pleasant Filipino Girl who was just doing her job working in Afghanistan to support herself and family abroad. The Terrorists move into the gym and shot an American dead in the face on the treadmill. The president of the Olympic Committee, Mr. Anwar Khan Jagdalak [a former mujahidin commander of Jamiat-i Islami] was in the locker room getting dressed when the Terrorist came face to face to with him. Mr. Jagdalak asked him in Persian "Khaireyaat Khob ast?" (Is everything OK?), and then he turned his gun and took a shot at the president of the Olympic Committee. Mr. Jagdalak made an Olympic dive and fled, and quickly found refuge in some space in the locker room where the Terrorist couldn't find him. He escaped to the basement through another pass.
The doorman, was carried down to the basement by Serena Staff. He had passed out from all of the events he saw, and they were opening up his vest to get him air and began sprinkling water on his face. Then all of sudden a bunch of Serena employees started running down the hall in the basement like they were being chased. This in turn caused two Russian girls to start screaming, and made everyone start to hide including President Karzai's oldest brother who was also trapped with us. What could you do, what would you do if you knew people were coming to shoot you? Turns out the terrorists had not infiltrated the basement, and the Russian girls had to be calmed down, and were given cigarettes to relax.
Hours pass, and we are all sitting and reminiscing about what the hell just happened in front of our eyes who and what we saw. Then all of a sudden two U.S. Marines come down to the basement armed to the teeth, asking everyone if they are all right. We were kind of relieved to see the Marines. The Marines then called out for all US Citizens and they took me, and about ten other people out including Arif whom I told the marine was with me. They said fine, but let's move. We started moving with the Marines out the basement, guns drawn, coming upstairs through the same hall I ran down. There was a pool a blood where I was standing before when everything began and now there was blood everywhere in the lobby, broken glass, black walls from the bomb blasts. Hundreds of Afghan Secret Service and NDS [National Directorate of Security, Amaniyyat-i Milli] guards were standing around. The US Marines got us out and put us in armored vehicles and took us to the embassy where they treated us, took reports and gave us medical checkups.
They later than released us, and my driver and guards came and picked us up in another car and we went home. Next day I came to get the land cruiser I left parked at the entrance of the door when the bomb went off. Amaniyyat (Afghan CIA) [NDS] asked us some questions then let us in. I looked at my car, I couldn't believe what I saw. Blood, guts, black marks from the bomb blast everywhere. The land cruiser from behind was filled with bullet holes throughout the vehicle. The second Suicide bomber had detonated himself five meters away from car once he got inside and his finger ended up in my back of my land cruiser, and his thumb was on my dashboard. I peered inside the back of the land cruiser through the broken glass and saw the finger, I am not at all accustomed to seeing those types of gruesome items up close it was pretty damn disgusting. The lack of respect for their lives was proven in this heinous crime.
This whole thing has me really spooked, now Taliban are vowing more attacks on Kabul restaurants where foreigners and expatriates are attending. I am unsure what to make of all these tragic events however the situation in Kabul is obviously deteriorating.