Taliban gunmen kill 9 at Kabul luxury hotel


KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban assault on a luxury hotel killed nine people, including four foreigners, Afghan officials said Friday, revising upward the number reported killed, as questions swirled around a security lapse at what was believed to be one of the capital’s safest locations.

The dinnertime attack Thursday in the Kabul Serena Hotel claimed the lives of a well-known Afghan journalist and his family, including two children who were shot in the head, according to accounts from Afghan officials and friends of the family.

The four teenage assailants, who were waved into the hotel by security guards and passed through metal detectors despite having handguns hidden in their socks, were shot dead by police.

Officials said initially that no one besides the attackers was killed, but they revised their account Friday as questions mounted about how the gunmen were allowed into the hotel.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said at a news conference that the hotel’s security had been “a failure,” and that investigators would look into whether the Serena’s own guards were complicit.

“When you get to the hotel, there are lots of security guards and lots of checks,” Sediqi said. “They have the necessary equipment to find where those pistols were hidden.”

The attack came on the eve of Nowruz, the Persian new year widely observed in Afghanistan, and pierced the security that had surrounded the Serena, a posh, carefully landscaped enclave for foreign diplomats, businessmen and Afghan officials where the $350-a-night rooms were all booked two weeks before a crucial presidential election here.

The Taliban has vowed to use violence to disrupt the April 5 election and said it would target anyone who participates.

There have been other attacks in the Afghan capital on locations popular with foreigners. In January, militants staged a commando-style raid on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners.

Officials said that the four foreigners killed at the Serena were citizens of New Zealand, Canada, India and Pakistan.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse said that one of its reporters, Sardar Ahmad, who ran a popular Twitter feed under the name Pressistan, was killed along with members of his family. “Our sadness is immense,” the agency said in a statement.

The Afghan reporter was a fixture in Kabul’s media circles, and friends, colleagues and members of the Afghan political elite immediately took to Twitter to express their grief.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, a vice presidential candidate and former warlord, tweeted: “We are very saddened that a veteran journalist Ahmad Sardar along with his wife lost their lives in Serena hotel attack. Rest In Peace!”

“The killing of Ahmad, his wife and two children is the biggest crime and a painful tragedy,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan issued a statement saying, “The indiscriminate attacks on civilian locations are breaches of international humanitarian law.”

Six people were injured at the Serena, including a child, two Afghan soldiers and a member of parliament, Sediqi said. Friends of Ahmad said the injured child was also his.

In a separate incident, explosives planted in a water bottle detonated Friday morning at a Nowruz celebration in southern Kandahar province, killing one police officer and injuring five others, Interior Ministry officials said. Eight civilians were also wounded in the explosion, the Kandahar media office said.

(Baktash is a Los Angeles Times special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Mumbai, India.)

 

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