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Nine Killed In Attack On Kabul's Serena Hotel


Afghan security forces block a road as they stand guard near the security perimeter set up around the Serena Hotel in downtown Kabul late overnight on March 20-21, when four gunmen killed at least nine people there.
Authorities in Afghanistan say at least nine civilians -- including four women and two children -- have been killed in a shooting attack at Kabul's luxury Serena Hotel.

Four foreign nationals -- from Canada, Paraguay, and two Bangladeshis, including a dual U.S.-Bangladeshi citizen -- were among the dead.

French news agency AFP said its Kabul reporter Sardar Ahmad, his wife, and two of his three children died in the attack.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has offered his condolences to Ahmad's relatives "and all Afghan press."

All four of the attackers were reported killed in the ensuing shoot-out with Afghan security forces.

The heavily fortified Serena Hotel is used by UN staff and has been a frequent target of insurgent attacks.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the "underage" attackers "were able to hide...pistols in their socks, and at 9 o'clock they started shooting at some of the personnel of the hotel."

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that group's militants were responsible for the assault, and claimed the attackers had fired at foreign and Afghan guests celebrating the Afghan new year.

The Taliban has vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the country's presidential election on April 5.

The Serena is regarded as among the most secure hotels in Kabul, with multiple layers of security.

A suicide bomber attacked the same hotel in 2008, killing six people.

Analysts say the Serena attack is likely to lead to a spike in security concerns among foreigners in Afghanistan, some of whom will be involved in independent missions to monitor the elections.

In January, 21 people, including 13 foreigners -- among them United Nations staffers and an IMF official -- were killed in a Taliban assault on a popular Lebanese restaurant in Kabul.

Herve Rouach, deputy editor in chief of the AFP news agency, called the killing of the agency's reporter Ahmad a "very great loss."

"He was one of our best journalists in Afghanistan and you know how crucial it is for us to have good journalists in country like Afghanistan [in order] to have a good coverage," Rouach told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

Ahmad's death followed the slaying earlier this month of Nils Horner, a journalist for Swedish Radio, who was shot dead by a group claiming to be a Taliban offshoot.

Sumit Galhotra, a research associate for the Committee to Protect Journalists, says militant attacks have been increasing and Kabul has to be seen as an unsafe environment for journalists and foreigners.

"It is [an] unsafe climate for foreigners, including diplomats, journalists who are operating there and [it] just shows the chaos and the instability that exists in the lead-up to the election," Galhotra says.

The presidential election is being held with the Afghan government preparing to assume control of security duties across the country as most U.S.-led combat forces withdraw by the end of this year.

Earlier on March 20, a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan left 18 people dead, including 10 police officers, one civilian, and the seven attackers.

Fourteen police officers were also wounded in that attack, which targeted a police station in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters
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