Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) – Taliban insurgents killed as many as eight people in a suicide bomb attack on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store was hosting a meeting.
A Norwegian journalist accompanying the foreign minister and a U.S. citizen were among those killed in yesterday’s bomb- and-gunfire assault at the Serena Hotel. Store was uninjured, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
The assault is a “serious crime against humanity,’’ Ban told reporters in New York. Store was the target of the attack, he said, without elaborating.
Suicide bombings in Afghanistan have risen sevenfold over the past two years and Taliban fighters are increasingly carrying out attacks in the capital. The assault may signal a shift in tactics for the rebels, who have previously focused on military and Afghan government targets.
It was the deadliest attack on a hotel in Kabul since the Islamist movement was ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001, the Associated Press reported.
Four militants armed with guns and grenades carried out the assault, AP cited Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid as saying. One fighter blew himself up and another was shot dead, he said.
The gunmen evaded armed guards at about 6 p.m. Kabul time and attacked the hotel’s spa and gym, where international guests relax and work out, according to the report.
More than 30 U.S. soldiers rushed to the hotel as part of a quick reaction force and security personnel from the nearby American embassy ran through the building looking for U.S. citizens, AP reported.
`Oasis of Luxury’
The 177-room hotel is located in the center of Kabul close to government ministries. On its Web site, the hotel describes itself as an “oasis of luxury in a war-ravaged city.’’
Store said in a statement he was “appalled’’ by the attack, which killed journalist Carsten Thomassen. Norway has about 450 soldiers in Afghanistan under NATO command.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said his country’s embassy, which is housed in the building, was being relocated. All embassy workers are “safe and well’’ and consular officials are contacting Australians in Kabul to advise them to avoid the hotel, Smith said in an e-mailed statement. Australia has almost 1,000 soldiers fighting with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“This is just another example of the Taliban’s ruthless and indiscriminate actions, which threaten innocent people,’’ Brigadier Andrew Nikolic, an Australian defense spokesman, said in a statement.
Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters as many as eight people were killed. The government in Kabul has “no evidence’’ that Store was the target or that the attack was carried out by the Taliban, he said.
A U.S. citizen was among the dead, State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth said. He wouldn’t provide the person’s name because the department is notifying the next of kin.
Six people were wounded, including security guards, civilians and two UN workers, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashari said in a telephone interview from Kabul.
NATO commands an international force of 41,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and is responsible for fighting insurgents and rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by more than 25 years of conflict. The U.S. has the biggest contingent, with 15,000 soldiers under NATO command and about 10,000 taking part in counterterrorism operations.