Nine people killed by Taliban gunmen in top Kabul hotel

Assault on the heavily fortified Serena Hotel was the latest in a string of attacks by the insurgents

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Taliban gunmen killed nine people, including four foreigners, in an attack on a luxury hotel used by UN staff and prominent Afghan politicians in Kabul on Thursday night, before being shot dead by security forces.

The assault on the heavily fortified Serena Hotel, which lasted three hours, was the latest in a string of attacks by the insurgents seeking to spoil a presidential election on 5 April, which would mark the first time in Afghanistan’s history that one elected government hands power to another.

Four Taliban fighters crept past security early on Thursday evening and hid inside the building for three hours before opening fire on diners inside the hotel’s restaurant, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

They then battled Afghan special forces as terrified guests hid in rooms or fled to hotel bunkers. All the Taliban gunmen were shot dead.

During the attack guests crouched in bathrooms with the lights off as they listened to gunfire and people running up and down the hallways.

“I never heard an explosion... only firearms and possible rocket-propelled grenades,” one senior UN official said in a text message from his darkened room.

One of the hotel’s main saferooms, which was packed with guests and Afghan members of parliament, filled with smoke from a fire in the kitchen. “It was hard to breathe. People started putting wet napkins on their faces,” one witness said.

French news agency Agence France Presse said its Afghan reporter Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two young children were killed in the attack. The foreigners killed were from Canada, India, New Zealand and Pakistan, the interior ministry said. All the 18 UN staff members known to be inside had been accounted for.

Police are investigating how the gunmen got into the Serena. The hotel has dozens of armed guards on patrol and anyone entering is searched for weappons.

“Our first conclusion is that unfortunately that was a failure by that security and measures that were in place,” Mr Sediqqi said, showing reporters photos of pistols roughly the size of a packet of cigarettes and piles of ammunition.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said the gunmen had targeted guests celebrating the eve of the Afghan new year on Friday.

“Suicide bombers have entered the Serena Hotel, heavy battle is underway, enemies suffered heavy casualties,” the Taliban spokesman said in a text message.

The Serena hotel has been attacked several times during the Taliban insurgency, but this was the deadliest so far.In 2008, gunmen disguised as police stormed the hotel and opened fire on guests inside its gym, killing six. reuters