Nine killed in Kabul hotel gun attack

Weapons arsenal in Kabul (21 March 2014) Afghan security officials display the weapons used by the gunmen in the attack

Nine people were killed when gunmen broke into a hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul and attacked diners on Thursday evening.

Two children and four foreign nationals were among the dead, the official said.

Special forces shot the gunmen. The Taliban said it was behind the assault.

The Afghan government has blamed the attack on Pakistan's ceasefire with the Taliban, which it says has enabled the militants to focus on targeting Afghanistan, correspondents report.

Afghan authorities are usually unwilling to voice Kabul's belief that Pakistan is behind violence in Afghanistan, the BBC's David Lloyn, in Kabul, reports.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi was very specific in blaming Pakistan for a ceasefire in the frontier region during the Afghan election campaign, our correspondent says.

The truce allowed the Taliban to move across Afghanistan, and enabled the group to keep open thousands of religious schools, known as madrassas, which Mr Sediqi said "teach terrorists to fight Afghans".

Pistols in socks

The gunmen - alleged to be teenagers - entered the five-star Serena Hotel, which is popular with foreigners, with pistols hidden in their socks.

They arrived at about 18:00 local time (13:30 GMT) claiming to be diners at a special buffet put on to mark Nowruz, the spring equinox and the start of the new year.

They started shooting three hours later after hiding in a toilet.

Afghan security forces at the Serena Hotel. Photo: 20 March 2014 The Serena Hotel was sealed off by the special forces and police
Serena hotel in Kabul (21 March 2014) The establishment is popular with foreigners

Among the dead were two women from New Zealand and Canada, and two men from India and Pakistan; the others killed were Afghans.

AFP news agency is reporting that one of its journalists, Sardar Ahmad, died in the attack along with his wife and two of their children.

Six other people were also wounded, Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammad Ayub Salangi told the BBC.

An Afghan MP, Habib Afghan, is in hospital after being shot in the face, stomach and leg.

The building was immediately surrounded by members of the elite Afghan Crisis Response Unit, who killed the attackers.

Bullets from the attack (21 March 2014) The gunmen hid in the hotel's toilet for three hours before the attack
Afghan security forces at the Serena Hotel (20 March 2014) The area was on high security alert after the assault

The Serena Hotel is less than 1km (0.6 miles) from the presidential palace and key government ministries.

It currently houses UN staff who will be monitoring April's presidential elections.

The hotel has been one of the most frequent targets of the Taliban with several previous attacks.

The election of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's successor is due to take place on 5 April.

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