Gunmen searched twice before attack at Kabul hotel
Kim Gamel, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, March 22, 2014 3:48PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 22, 2014 9:43PM EDT
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Security guards searched four attackers -- twice -- before allowing them to enter an Afghan hotel where the young men proceeded to the restaurant and killed nine diners, including two Canadians, a journalist, his wife and two children, according to chilling closed-circuit video broadcast Saturday by a local TV station.
The question of how the gunmen penetrated the tight security of the Serena hotel -- considered one of the safest spots in the Afghan capital -- with pistols and ammunition is one of the biggest mysteries surrounding Thursday's attack. Afghan authorities have said the attackers hid the weaponry in the soles of their shoes, wrapped in plastic. Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi displayed the tiny pistols, which fit in the palm of a hand, ammunition and large shoes at a press conference on Friday.
But the three-story hotel is surrounded by a fence and visitors must pass through two gates and a metal detector before crossing a courtyard to the lobby entrance. Bombings and shootings are common in Afghanistan, and many establishments have guests searched before allowing them to enter. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault and said it proves they can strike anywhere.
The 14 minutes of video, obtained by the private Ariana TV station and shared with The Associated Press, show four men clad in traditional tunics and loose trousers known as shalwar kameez walking through the perimeter gate. They start toward security before they are apparently called back by the guards to be searched, with the timestamp showing it is 6:57 p.m. The cameras then capture images of the men placing ID cards and other items on a tray by a conveyer belt before passing through the metal detector. A guard then gives each one a more thorough pat down before letting them through the door.
The Serena has one of the strictest protocols of places frequented by foreigners, but it is rare to be searched at the first gate, suggesting something about the men had raised suspicion.
Authorities said two of the gunmen went to the restaurant and killed seven victims by shooting them in the head while two other victims were found in the halls. Police also killed all four attackers after a three-hour standoff. The camera appears to follow the four men as they make their way through the lobby at one point turning to a man with a phone before entering the hall that leads to the restaurant.
The time stamp on the footage then jumps to 9:17 p.m. Two of the men are near the end of the hall past the restaurant, hiding behind walls with their pistols hoisted. About an hour later the burst of a gunshot is seen as security forces apparently fire at one of the attackers and water begins flooding the area. The second man walks toward the women's bathroom and isn't seen again.
No security forces are seen in the hall or entering the restaurant before the final shot on the video at 10:20 p.m. The video conforms with AP reporting.
Seddiqi and police officials contacted on Saturday said they had no updates about the attack as the investigation is still underway.
Among the dead were two Canadian development workers, Roshan Thomas of the Vancouver-area and Zeenab Kassam, a 37-year-old from Calgary. Both were involved in providing education opportunities for Afghan youth.
Sardar Ahmad, a widely respected 40-year-old Afghan journalist with the French news agency Agence France-Presse. His wife and two of their children also were killed, and the agency said their one-year-old son was badly wounded and hospitalized. All were shot in the restaurant. Relatives said the baby was still hospitalized but his condition was improving.
An American, a Paraguayan and a fifth Afghan also were killed.
The attack came on the heels of an uptick in what had been relatively rare bombings and shootings targeting foreigners in the capital. A Swedish journalist was shot to death on the street in a relatively affluent area earlier this month, and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners was attacked by a suicide bomber and gunmen in January.
The Taliban have vowed to use violence to disrupt next month's presidential election, which promises to result in the first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Islamic militant movement from power. Deadly attacks show the insurgents are resilient and undermine confidence in the ability of government forces to protect the people as U.S. and allied combat forces prepare to withdraw by the end of the year.
A roadside bomb also killed three Afghan civilians Saturday in the volatile southern province of Kandahar, officials said. The explosion struck their car in the Shah Wali Kot district, according to a statement by the provincial governor's office.
With files from The Canadian Press