21 Mar 2014

'No New Zealanders' killed in attack

9:59 pm on 21 March 2014

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says despite media reports, no New Zealanders were harmed in a terrorist attack on a luxury hotel in Afghanistan.

Nine people were killed when a group of teenagers opened fire within the Serena Hotel, in the capital Kabul which has been targeted by the Taliban many times in the past.

Police stand guard outside the Serena hotel in Kabul on Thursday.

Police stand guard outside the Serena hotel in Kabul on Thursday. Photo: AFP

The attack on Thursday night came as Afghans celebrated New Year's Eve at the five-star hotel, which is popular with foreigners and is hosting many diplomats and others who are in Afghanistan to observe presidential elections in April.

Officials say four teenagers evaded the hotel's tight security by hiding small guns in oversized shoes and pretending to be diners. After hiding in toilets for three hours, they emerged and began firing about 6pm (local time).

Hotel security guards returned fire and the building was surrounded by the elite Afghan Crisis Response Unit. The attackers were all killed.

A spokesperson for MFAT says a New Zealand woman who was reported to have been killed is unharmed. It said New Zealand ambassador in Kabul is in direct contact with the woman, and also checking with the authorities that no other New Zealanders were involved.

Four foreign nationals and two Afghan children are believed to be among the dead. Afghan MP Habib Afghan was among the wounded and was shot in the face, stomach and leg.

An expat New Zealander in Kabul, Tony Cameron, was in contact with a colleague at the hotel when the attack began and the man told him gunfire had broken out.

In an email to Radio New Zealand News Mr Cameron wrote : "Serena is currently under attack by gunman/gunmen. Security returning fire. 10pm Kabul time." A short time later he wrote: "International forces have arrived at Serena Hotel and seem to have made contact with one attacker. Firing is continuing. 10.21pm Kabul time."

Mr Cameron later told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme from Kabul that his colleague had said Afghan national police special forces were also at the scene and trying to contain the situation. He said on Friday morning his colleague was not hurt.

The hotel was attacked in 2008 by a suicide bomber and six people were killed, Reuters reports. Since then, it has beefed up its protection and is considered the safest place to stay in Kabul, protected by multiple layers of security including metal detectors and armed guards. It is home to many UN staff and foreign delegations.