KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan officials Friday raised the death toll in a Taliban assault on a luxury hotel to nine people, including four foreigners, as police investigated a devastating security lapse at one of Kabul’s supposedly safest locations.
The dinnertime attack Thursday inside the Kabul Serena Hotel also 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.
The four teen assailants, who were waved into the hotel by security guards and passed through metal detectors despite having handguns hidden in their socks, were shot dead by police.
Officials said initially that no one besides the attackers was killed, but they revised their account Friday as questions mounted about how the gunmen were allowed inside the hotel.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told a news conference that the hotel security had been “a failure,” adding that investigators would probe whether the Serena’s own guards were complicit.
“When you get to the hotel there are lots of security guards and lots of checks,” Seddiqi 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 veil of security that had surrounded the Serena, a posh, carefully landscaped enclave for foreign diplomats, businessmen and Afghan officials where the $350-a-night rooms were booked solid two weeks before a crucial presidential election here.
The Taliban have vowed to use violence to disrupt the April 5 election and said they would target anyone who participates.
The attack was also the latest on a location popular with foreigners in the Afghan capital. In January, militants staged a commando-style raid on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners.
Officials said that the four foreigners killed at the Serena were citizens of New Zealand, Canada, India and Pakistan.
The French news agency Agence France-Presse said that one of its reporters, Sardar Ahmad, who also ran a popular Twitter feed under the name Pressistan, was killed along with his wife and two children. “Our sadness is immense,” the agency said in a statement.
Ahmad was a fixture in Kabul’s media circles and friends, colleagues and members of the Afghan political elite immediately took to Twitter to express their grief.
Abdul Rashid Dostum, a vice presidential candidate and a former commander of Afghan forces that battled the Soviet occupation, tweeted: “We are very saddened that a veteran journalist Ahmad Sardar along with his wife lost their lives in Serena hotel attack. Rest In Peace!”
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan issued a statement saying: “The indiscriminate attacks on civilian locations are breaches of international humanitarian law.”
Six others were injured at the Serena including a child, a hotel guard, two Afghan soldiers and a member of parliament, Seddiqi said.
Baktash is a Times special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Mumbai, India.