Taliban militants killed nine people, including an Afghan reporter and his family, in an attack on a Kabul hotel as the group stepped up its campaign to disrupt the nation’s presidential election next month.
“It’s with sadness that I learned of the loss of a talented Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad who was killed along with his wife and his two lovely children in yesterday’s terrorist attack carried out by the enemies of the people of Afghanistan on the Serena Hotel,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an e-mailed statement today.
Offering his condolences, Karzai described the killings of reporter and his family as “the biggest crime and a painful tragedy.”
Five others -- two Bangladeshis, a Paraguayan and a Canadian and an Afghan civilian -- were also among the dead after teenage gunmen in traditional Afghan clothes opened fire at the hotel, the interior ministry said in an e-mailed statement. At least seven others including Ahmad’s youngest son were wounded, it said.
“Their attack has a direct connection in disrupting the upcoming Afghan elections,” Interior Ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui told reporters in Kabul today. “No doubt the elections will face difficult challenges.”
The attacks add to concerns that the nation’s security will deteriorate before the April 5 vote to pick a successor for Karzai. His refusal to sign an agreement keeping U.S. troops in the country beyond this year has deterred investors and put at risk billions of dollars in funds for the aid-reliant economy.
“Every Taliban attack will have a severe impact on the elections,” said Ahmad Saeedi, a former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan and currently a Kabul-based political analyst, in a phone interview. “The attack will reduce the participation of people in voting.”
The Taliban targeted the Serena Hotel, which is near the presidential palace and the foreign ministry, because it served alcohol to guests celebrating the Persian new year Nowruz, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said by phone today. Earlier yesterday, seven Taliban fighters with suicide vests killed 10 policemen at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan in an attack aimed at disrupting the vote, Mujahed said in a statement.
The Taliban attackers at the hotel, all of whom were killed by security forces, hid pistols in their socks and were armed with grenades, Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi said by phone. One of Sardar’s children was shot and was in critical condition, he said.
“They spread out and chose different positions to attack the guests,” Siddiqui told reporters in Kabul, referring to the militants. “Two of them initially shot four people dead who were dining, and two others began shooting everywhere.”
In January, the Taliban targeted a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul that served alcohol, killing 21 people including 13 foreigners, making it the deadliest attack on non-Afghan citizens in the country since 2001. The International Monetary Fund’s senior official in Afghanistan and three United Nations workers were among the dead.
President Barack Obama said Feb. 25 that he asked the Pentagon to prepare plans for withdrawal of all forces by December, while waiting to see if the next Afghan leader will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement. All nine candidates still vying to succeed Karzai have vowed to sign the BSA, saying it would boost security and the economy.
The Taliban are boycotting the elections, calling them illegitimate and an American conspiracy, Mujahed said in a March 10 statement. The group plans to use “all force” to disrupt the polls and target voters and officials, he said.
More than 8,000 civilians were killed or injured in armed conflicts in 2013, a 14 percent increase from the previous year, according to a February report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.