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The Associated Press, January 14, 2008

6 killed in attack on luxury Kabul Serena hotel

The militants killed six people and wounded six, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.

KABUL - Militants with suicide vests, grenades and AK-47 rifles attacked a luxury hotel on Monday, killing at least six people in the most brazen attack yet on Western civilians in Kabul, witnesses and a Taliban spokesman said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Norwegian foreign minister, who was not hurt, was the target of the assault, which came as the Norwegian embassy was holding a meeting at the Serena Hotel. Two State Department officials said at least one American was among the dead.

The Serena spokesman said that three hotel employees and two guards were killed during the attack. Officials have said that Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet correspondent Carsten Thomassen also died, as did one US citizen, and the Philippines Foreign Affairs Department said that a Filipina spa supervisor who was wounded in the attack has died today.
The Times, Jan.15, 2008

It appeared to be the first direct assault on a hotel in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The assailants also appeared to concentrate on the hotel's gym and spa, where foreigners relax and work out. An American inside said she saw a body she believed to be dead and pools of blood in the lobby.

The militants killed six people and wounded six, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. One of the attackers was shot to death and the Taliban spokesman said a second died in the suicide explosion.

In Washington, two State Department officials said that at least one American was killed. The identity of the victim was being withheld until family could be notified, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcment of the death.

Earlier, the officials said no U.S. government employees were believed to have been in the hotel when the attack occurred. They said several Americans who had been there had called the embassy in Kabul to say they had not been injured. But the officials could not say if any private U.S. citizens were unaccounted for.

More than 30 U.S. soldiers in a half dozen Humvees rushed to the hotel as part of a quick reaction force. In addition, security personnel from the U.S. Embassy ran through the hotel looking for American citizens caught in the attack.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told The Associated Press that four militants with suicide vests attacked the hotel — one bomber who detonated his explosives and three militants who threw grenades and fired guns and then fled. The claim could not be verified but came very soon after the attack.

Suzanne Griffin, an American who works with the aid agency Save the Children, said she was in the gym's locker room when the attack started.

"Thank God I didn't get into the shower because then we heard gunfire, a lot of it. It was very close, close enough that plaster came off the ceiling," said Griffin, her voice shaking. "We all just sat on the floor and got as far as we could from any glass and huddled on the floor. We turned our phones on silent."

Griffin, 62, of Seattle, said hotel staff evacuated the women to another part of the hotel. "We had to step over a woman's dead body. She was one of the gym people," she said.

She contacted the U.S. Embassy, which told her to not open the door unless she heard an American voice. U.S. soldiers evacuated her.

"There was blood on the floor all the way to the kitchen. There was a lot of blood in the lobby. There were empty shell casings outside," she said.

Stian L. Solum, a photographer from the Norwegian photo agency Scanpix, said a Norwegian journalist from the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet and a Norwegian diplomatic staff member were wounded in the attack. He said Norway's Foreign Minster Jonas Gahr Stoere, currently visiting Kabul, was not injured and was safe in the hotel basement.

"There were two or three bombs, and there was complete chaos," Solum said on the state radio network NRK. "When I started to walk out (of the elevator) a bomb went off, a little way from me. There were shots fired by what I think was an ANA (Afghan National Army) soldier."

The 177-room Serena is a newly built hotel frequently used by foreign embassies for meetings, parties and dinners. The nicest hotel in the city, Westerners often stay or eat dinner there. Located in downtown Kabul, it is near the presidential palace though separated by fences, blast walls and checkpoints. It is also near several government ministries and a district police station.

On its Web site, the hotel claims it is an "oasis of luxury in a war-ravaged city."

Aftenposten journalist Tor Arne Andreassen told the Oslo paper's Internet edition that he heard a grenade explode.

"Out the window I could see shots being fired at the guardpost by the gate," Andreassen said. He said he saw a female hotel employee so badly wounded that he did not believe she could have survived.

"The plaster flew around our room and the whole building shook," Andreassen said.

A second American who was exercising in the hotel's gym said she heard gunfire after the explosion, and saw a body she believed to be dead and pools of blood in the lobby area, and bullet marks in the gym area. She said three foreigners had been wounded. She asked not to be identified for her safety.

Vanessa Valentino, an American working in the Afghan capital, was at a meeting at the central bank around the corner when she heard a series of explosions and gunfire.

Valentino described an explosion faraway, then gunfire, another distant explosion followed by a large explosion very close — all within a couple of minutes.

"I think it shook the building," Valentino said. "We're just not leaving the building, and we can't figure out what's happened, so we decided to stay inside."

In 2003, a rocket exploded near the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, knocking some guests from their restaurant chairs and shattering windows across the lobby and in many bedrooms. No injuries were reported.

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