KABUL - Taliban gunmen killed nine people, including four foreigners, in an attack on a luxury hotel used by UN staff and prominent Afghan politicians in Kabul on Thursday night, before being shot dead by security forces, witnesses and police said on Friday.
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 dead.
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 UN 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 UN staff members known to be inside had been accounted for, according to a UN official.