New Zealand officials say a Kiwi woman is safe after an attack by gunmen on a Kabul hotel where she was staying.
Afghan officials told a press conference on Friday afternoon that a Kiwi was among the nine people killed in an attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul by four gunmen.
Were you or someone you know in the Serena Hotel during yesterday's attack? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
But the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) tonight said it had confirmed a New Zealander was staying in the hotel but was safe and unharmed.
An MFAT spokesman said: "We are aware of the incident at the Serena Hotel in Afghanistan.
"One New Zealand woman was in the hotel at the time but she was unharmed.
"The New Zealand Ambassador in Kabul is in direct contact with her."
She was the only New Zealander known to be at the hotel, said MFAT.
The four gunmen, who were said to be teenagers, broke into the five-star Serena Hotel with pistols hidden in their socks. They were killed by special forces. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for Thursday evening's attack.
They arrived at about 6pm local time, where they entered the restaurant, claiming to be diners. They started shooting three hours later after hiding in a toilet.
Afghan authorities initially said only two security guards had been wounded in the brazen assault. Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammad Ayub Salangi later told The Associated Press that the Afghan fatalities included two men, two women and one child while the foreigners included two women and two men.
Western journalists were initially told in a media conference today that the women were from New Zealand and Canada, and two of the men were from India and Pakistan. The others killed were Afghans, officials said.
The Serena had been considered one of the safest places to stay in Kabul. To enter the hotel, guests must pass through an exterior gate and are searched at a checkpoint with a metal detector.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying its fighters targeted foreigners and dignitaries gathered at the hotel for a celebration marking the Persian new year, Nowruz.
A hotel worker named Gulam Ali told his brother by cellphone during the attack that all the guests and staff members at the Serena Hotel had taken refuge in the basement.
``Everybody's fine,'' he told his brother Mohammed Nabil, who let an Associated Press reporter listen to the conversation. ``Foreigners, workers, everybody is in the basement. A quick-reaction unit from the police entered the Serena and the hotel is surrounded.''
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi described the attackers as young men who appeared to be about 18-years-old, and said all of the gunmen had been killed.
The gunmen sneaked pistols into the heavily guarded hotel by hiding them in their socks and saying they were going to dinner at the hotel, he said, adding that two hotel security guards were wounded.
General Salangi said earlier that one of the gunmen had been trapped in a bathroom by security forces.
The attacks show the Taliban are following through on their threat to use violence to disrupt the April 5 vote, which will be the first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Islamic militant movement. President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Afghan police force stands guard at the site of a gun battle at the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo / AP
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault on the Serena Hotel and an earlier attack in Jalalabad, an economic hub near the border with Pakistan.
``Our people, if they decide to attack any place, they can do it,'' he said in an email to journalists.
The Taliban have threatened a campaign of violence to disrupt upcoming elections.
- NZ Herald, AP