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Gunmen attack hotel in Afghan capital; police kill 4 attackers

Taliban gunmen attacked a luxury hotel on Thursday in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul, police said, and four of the assailants were killed in a shootout with Afghan security forces.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters all the gunmen were dead and security forces were in control of the hotel. He said he was not aware of deaths among the staff or guests, but checks were under way and Afghan special forces were on the scene.

The attackers appear to have entered the hotel around six in the evening with pistols hidden in their socks and waited three hours to start their attack, he said.

They fired on guests and then hid in bathrooms when security forces arrived, he said. The gunmen appeared to be under 18 years old.

Two guards had been wounded, he said. No other casualties were confirmed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said the attackers had fired at foreign and Afghan guests celebrating the Afghan new year.

"Suicide bombers have entered the Serena Hotel, heavy battle is underway, enemies suffered heavy casualties," he said in a text message.

His information could not be immediately verified and no one Reuters spoke to reported hearing any explosions.

One person taken to safety along with other guests confirmed the shooting appeared to begin in the hotel restaurant.

The hotel was attacked in 2008 by a suicide bomber and six people were killed.

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 United Nations staff and foreign delegations.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban attacked a police station in the southern city of Jalalabad with suicide bombers and gunmen. At least 11 people were killed.

The Taliban have vowed to kill anyone associated with next month's presidential elections. The April 5 polls should mark the first time one elected government hands power to another in the history of Afghanistan.

[Source: By Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi, Reuters, Kabul, 20Mar14]

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