The assault on the heavily fortified Serena Hotel, which lasted
some three hours, was the latest in a string of attacks by the
insurgents seeking to spoil a presidential election on April 5,
which would mark the first time in Afghanistan's history that one
elected government hands power to another.
Four Taliban fighters snuck 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
During the attack guests crouched in bathrooms with the lights
turned off as they listened to gunfire and people running up and
down the hallways.
"I never heard an explosion or anything. Only firearms and possible
rocket-propelled grenades," one senior U.N. 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 U.N. staff members known to be inside had been accounted
for, according to a U.N. official.
SERENA HOTEL WAS SAFE HAVEN
Police are investigating how the gunmen got into the Serena. The
hotel has dozens of armed guards patrolling its perimeter, and
anyone entering is checked with metal detectors and body searched
"Our first conclusion is that unfortunately that was a failure by
that security and measures that were in place," Sediqqi said,
showing reporters photos of pistols roughly the size of a packet of
cigarettes and piles of ammunition.
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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 Thursday's assault was the deadliest so far.
In 2008, gunmen disguised as police stormed the hotel and opened
fire on guests inside its gym, killing six.
Despite its history as a targeted, the Serena's restaurant was one
of the few places in Kabul where foreign officials were still
permitted to dine, following a Taliban attack in January on a
Lebanese restaurant that killed 21 people, including three U.N.
staff and the International Monetary Fund's top representative in
A U.N. spokesman told Reuters the attack would not stop the
organization from providing support for the April election.
"This doesn't deter us from our commitment to assist the Afghan
people and support them in the election," said Ari Gaitanis.
(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld and Mirwais Harooni;
editing by Maria Golovnina and Andrew Roche, Simon Cameron-Moore and
Michael Perry and Miral Fahmy)
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