Taliban gunmen kill 9 at Kabul hotel

The four teenage assailants were killed by police

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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 later shot dead by police. Officials initially said no one besides the attackers was killed but revised their account Friday, amid questions 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," Mr. 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 carefully landscaped enclave for foreign diplomats, businessmen and Afghan officials, where the $350-a-night rooms were all booked two weeks before the upcoming crucial Afghan presidential election.

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

The French news agency Agence France-Presse said 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 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, Mr. Sediqi said. Friends of Mr. Ahmad said the injured child was also his.

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