Afghan journalist, family killed in hotel attack

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An Afghan policeman patrols the entrance of the Serena hotel in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, March 21, 2014. Four men with pistols stuffed in their socks attacked the hotel in Kabul on Thursday, opening fire in a restaurant and killing nine people, including four foreigners, officials said. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

An Afghan policeman patrols the entrance of the Serena hotel in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, March 21, 2014. Four men with pistols stuffed in their socks attacked the hotel in Kabul on Thursday, opening fire in a restaurant and killing nine people, including four foreigners, officials said. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

In this picture taken on Aug. 13, 2010, journalist Sardar Ahmad poses for a picture during coverage an event on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. Ahmad, a widely respected 40-year-old Afghan journalist working for the French news agency Agence France Presse, was killed along his wife and two children in a Thursday attack by four gunmen on the Serena hotel in Kabul. The agency said the family’s youngest son was undergoing emergency treatment after being badly wounded in the attack. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

A wounded person is wheeled through the hospital in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, Friday, March 21, 2014. An explosion struck a Nowruz, or New Year, ceremony on Friday, killing at lest two policemen in the southern province of Kandahar, police said. Police spokesman Zia Durani said militants threw an explosives-packed bottle that blew up when it landed on the ground, which he called a new tactic. The head of the provincial media center was seriously wounded. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)

A member of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, displays some of the weapons that where used by attackers on the Serena hotel on Thursday, during a press conference at the Interior ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, March 21, 2014. Four men with pistols stuffed in their socks attacked the hotel in Kabul on Thursday, opening fire in a restaurant killing at least nine people, including four foreigners, officials said. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Afghans walk by the Serena hotel in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, March 21, 2014. Four men hiding guns in their shoes attacked the hotel in Kabul on Thursday opening fire in a restaurant killing at least nine people, including four foreigners, officials said. Authorities appeared stunned that the militants had managed to get through the tight security at the Serena hotel — considered one of the safest places to stay in Kabul. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The luxury hotel was considered one of the safest spots in the Afghan capital. Yet four gunmen walked in, proceeded to the restaurant and pulled out pistols hidden in their shoes. They killed nine people, including an AFP journalist, his wife and two children who were shot in the head.

The Taliban boasted that the bold assault Thursday night shows they can strike anywhere, and Afghan officials issued a string of conflicting statements as they scrambled to explain how the attackers penetrated the Serena Hotel’s tight security.

It was a major embarrassment to government security forces less than two weeks before national elections and came on the heels of an uptick in bombings and shootings against foreigners in the capital, something that had been relatively rare. A Swedish journalist was shot on the street earlier this month, and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners was attacked by a suicide bomber and gunmen in January.

The attack in the Serena was particularly brazen because it was considered one of the best-protected sites for civilians in Kabul. Sheltered behind a nondescript wall, entrants must pass through a security room at the gate where they are patted down and go through a metal detector as bags are put through an X-ray machine and sometimes searched.

The attackers hid their small pistols and ammunition in their shoes and socks, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters, but he could not say how the weapons went undetected. The hotel security has been known in the past not always to act when the metal detector beeps.

At the time of the attack, Café Zarnegar, one of the main restaurants, was packed with foreigners as well as Afghans celebrating the eve of the Persian New Year, Nowruz. The hotel is popular among foreign aid workers, journalists, contractors and diplomats who often come for brunch or dinner.

The dead included five Afghans, two Canadians, an American and a Paraguayan. Six people were wounded, including a child, a foreigner, two policemen, a hotel guard, and an Afghan lawmaker.

Kimberley Motley, an American lawyer who has worked in Afghanistan for many years, was taking a bath in her second-floor room when the shots started about 9:15 p.m. Unaware that the staff and many guests had taken refuge in a basement safe room, she got out of the tub, barricaded herself in a corner of the bedroom and tried to stay as quiet as possible while gunfire rattled downstairs for hours.

After the shooting stopped about midnight she went to the lobby, which was packed with security forces and other confused guests who were smoking as hotel staff handed out water and slices of cake.

“I saw them bring out four bodies. They weren’t covered,” she said Friday in a telephone interview.

“There was a trail of blood from the restaurant to the front door,” she said, apparently from corpses being dragged away. The restaurant itself was devastated. “It was blood and bullet holes,” she added.

Officials have changed their story several times since the attack began to unfold. They later attributed the confusion to the chaos and the need to protect the hotel guests.

This much is now known:

Two of the gunmen went to the restaurant and killed seven victims by shooting them in the head. Two other victims were found in the halls, Sediqqi said, displaying photos of the small pistols and ammunition the attackers used and their shoes. Police killed all four attackers —

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