Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gunmen Attack Luxury Hotel in Kabul Weeks Before Afghanistan Elections --- KABUL, Afghanistan — Four men with pistols opened fire inside the luxurious Serena Hotel complex in central Kabul on Thursday night, wounding two people before being gunned down and sowing panic in an exclusive enclave frequented by foreign officials, prominent Afghans and an array of development workers, officials and witnesses said. -- The Afghan Interior Ministry said the attackers entered the hotel saying they were going to eat in one of the complex’s restaurants. Officials said the attackers managed to smuggle pistols past security checkpoints and then hid in a bathroom, eventually springing out and opening fire on hotel guests and guards. -- The ministry said that the two injured people were hospitalized and that one was a foreigner, but gave no further details -- A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the insurgents were responsible. But the Twitter feed for the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service, reported that the battle had been sparked by a conflict between armed guests, and the police forces appeared to be staying noncommittal. -- Witnesses inside the Serena said that a festive evening of Afghan New Year celebrations was interrupted around 9 p.m., when they began hearing gunshots around the complex’s packed restaurants. Frightened guests holed up in their rooms, or found shelter in safety bunkers around the complex. -- The police quickly put up a heavy cordon around the hotel, which is in central Kabul and within a mile of the presidential palace. -- The Serena has long been a popular destination for wealthy or prominent visitors to Kabul. Hotel rooms can cost upward of $300 a night, with prices soaring during times of high demand. Ahead of the presidential elections on April 5, rooms at the Serena were fully booked through the coming weeks. -- Even before, concerns about security in Kabul had prompted the United Nations to move some of its staff behind the hotel’s high walls, which are guarded around the clock by dozens of security guards armed with assault weapons. -- The hotel has also been subjected to repeated attacks by the Taliban, who more recently have threatened a heavy surge of assaults to disrupt the elections. With its expatriate clientele and general ambience of luxury, including a heated swimming pool and full-service spa, the hotel offers an obviously attractive target for militants, and recent security reports rated the Serena among the highest-risk locales in the city. -- Early on Thursday, the Taliban claimed another major attack after a series of coordinated strikes in the city of Jalalabad left at least 10 police officers dead, including the district police chief. - More, NYTimes, at:


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