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Taliban kill 9 in Afghan hotel, shoot kids in head

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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 Kabul. Yet, four gunmen walked in, made their way to the restaurant, pulled out hidden pistols and started shooting diners, officials said Friday. They killed nine people, including shooting an AFP journalist, his wife and two children in the head.

The shooting spree Thursday evening at the Serena Hotel was the latest in a series of high-profile attacks by the Taliban and allied militants as they step up a campaign of violence, vowing to disrupt the April 5 national elections.

Claiming responsibility for the attack, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said it shows that “our people, if they decide to attack any place, they can do it.”

The attack was particularly bold because the Serena Hotel was seen as one of the best-protected sites for civilians in the capital. Sheltered behind a non-descript wall, entrants must pass through a security room at the gate where they go through a metal detector and bags are put through an X-ray machine. It is popular among foreigners — both visitors and residents, who would often come for brunch or dinner.

The attackers hid their small pistols and ammunition in their shoes and socks, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said — but it was not clear how the weapons went undetected.

At the time of the attack, the hotel restaurant was packed with Afghans celebrating the eve of the Persian New Year, Nowruz as well as foreigners who frequent the hotel.

Among the victims was Sardar Ahmad, a widely respected 40-year-old Afghan journalist with the French news agency Agence France-Presse. The agency said his wife and two children were also killed and their youngest son was undergoing emergency treatment after being badly wounded in the attack.

Ahmad also ran the Kabul Pressistan media company and joined AFP in 2003 to become the agency’s senior reporter in Kabul. He covered all aspects of life, war and politics in his native Afghanistan, according to a statement tweeted by the news agency.

Two Canadians were also killed in the attack. It came on the heels of an uptick in bombings and shootings against foreigners in the Afghan capital, something that had been relatively rare. Earlier this month, a Swedish journalist was shot on the street and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners was attacked by a suicide bomber and gunmen in January.

Six people were wounded in the attack, including Ahmed’s son, a foreigner, two policemen, a hotel guard, and an Afghan lawmaker.

The Taliban have threatened to use violence to disrupt next month’s elections. The presidential vote will be the first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Islamic militant movement. President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Sediqqi said the attackers reached the hotel at 8:30 p.m. Two of the gunmen went to the restaurant, killing most of victims, while the other gunmen killed several others while making their way through the hotel, he said.

Police killed all four attackers after a three-hour standoff, with shooting resounding through the cordoned off streets outside.

The attackers appeared to be about 18 years old, Sediqqi said at a press conference, displaying photos of the small pistols and ammunition the attackers used and shoes in which they hid their weapons.

Sediqqi said four foreigners were killed — from Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan and India. But all those countries except Canada denied any of their

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