Kiwi escapes Afghanistan attack

Afghan security personnel arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul. Photo by Reuters
Afghan security personnel arrive at the site of an attack in Kabul. Photo by Reuters

A New Zealand woman has escaped a militant attack in a Kabul hotel in which nine people died.

The four gunmen, who were said to be teenagers, broke into the five-star Serena Hotel in the Afghan capital with pistols hidden in their socks.

They attacked diners in one of the hotel restaurants around 9pm local time on Thursday.

Foreign media initially reported a New Zealander was among the dead.

But the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) tonight confirmed that while a New Zealand woman was in the hotel, she was not one of the casualties.

She was the only New Zealander known to be at the hotel, an MFAT spokesman said.

"The New Zealand Ambassador in Kabul is in direct contact with her. The Ambassador continues to follow up with the local authorities to confirm no other New Zealanders were involved."

Four foreigners were among the dead, with six others wounded. Two children were among those killed.

All of the gunmen were eventually killed by special forces.

Afghan authorities initially said only two security guards had been wounded in the brazen assault. Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammad Ayub Salangi later told The Associated Press that the Afghan fatalities included two men, two women and one child while the foreigners included two women and two men.

The Serena had been considered one of the safest places to stay in Kabul. To enter the hotel, guests must pass through an exterior gate and are searched at a checkpoint with a metal detector.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying its fighters targeted foreigners and dignitaries gathered at the hotel for a celebration marking the Persian new year, Nowruz.

A hotel worker named Gulam Ali told his brother by cellphone during the attack that all the guests and staff members at the Serena Hotel had taken refuge in the basement.

"Everybody's fine," he told his brother Mohammed Nabil, who let an Associated Press reporter listen to the conversation. "Foreigners, workers, everybody is in the basement. A quick-reaction unit from the police entered the Serena and the hotel is surrounded."

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi described the attackers as young men who appeared to be about 18-years-old.

General Salangi said earlier that one of the gunmen had been trapped in a bathroom by security forces.

The attacks show the Taliban are following through on their threat to use violence to disrupt the April 5 vote, which will be the first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Islamic militant movement. President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault on the Serena Hotel and an earlier attack in Jalalabad, an economic hub near the border with Pakistan.

"Our people, if they decide to attack any place, they can do it," he said in an email to journalists.

The Taliban have threatened a campaign of violence to disrupt upcoming elections.

- By Sam Boyer of the NZ Herald

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