January 14, 2008 / 2:26 PM / 12 years ago

Suicide attack on Afghan luxury hotel kills seven

KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide attack claimed by the Taliban killed seven people, including an American and a Norwegian journalist, on Monday at a luxury hotel in Kabul where the Norwegian foreign minister was staying.

Afghan police block a road leading to Serena Hotel after a suicide bomb attack in Kabul January 14, 2008. A suicide bomb attack on a luxury hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul killed at least two guards on Monday, a police official said. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere was unhurt in the attack at the five-star Serena Hotel in central Kabul and sheltered with other guests in the basement, Norway’s public broadcaster NRK said.

The hardline Islamist Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, in which police said up to four attackers threw hand grenades at the gates, shot their way into the high-walled compound and at some point set off a suicide bomb.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said an American was among those killed but he could not name the victim until the next of kin had been informed.

An Afghan interior ministry spokesman said six people, most of them security guards, were killed in the attack, and a Norwegian newspaper said one of its journalists died later of his wounds.

The paper Dagbladet said in its online edition that correspondent Carsten Thomassen, 39, had died on the operating table at a Czech field hospital where he was taken after being shot in the attack.

Norway’s Stoere was safe and was taken to a secure location, but a Norwegian Foreign Ministry employee was wounded and taken to hospital, the Foreign Ministry in Oslo said in a statement.

CONFUSION OVER ATTACK

There was some confusion over the sequence of events.

“After the suicide bombing, there was another explosion which we are not sure ... whether it was a suicide attack or it was a bomb,” Interior Minister Zemarai Bashary told a news conference.

Then, he said, there was some shooting. “We are uncertain about the shootings as well; whether it was by the security guards of the hotel or by the enemies,” Bashary said.

An Afghan police official, who declined to be named, said “There was gunfire inside and outside the hotel, plus a suicide attack ... it is very complicated at this time.”

“The national intelligence service has taken responsibility for the investigation,” he said.

The hotel, behind heavily guarded gates and surrounded by high walls, is mainly frequented by foreigners.

Taliban militants carried out more than 140 suicide attacks in 2007 in their campaign to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and expel foreign forces.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the attack would not deter his country from its work in Afghanistan.

“The incident in Kabul today is an unacceptable attack on innocent civilians and a serious blow to work for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“The incident underlines the need for the international effort to ensure security and stability in Afghanistan to be continued. The attack does not change Norway’s engagement in Afghanistan,” he said.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Norway has about 500 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led international force sent there after U.S. and Afghan opposition forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001.

U.S. troops cordoned off the roads around the Serena Hotel, completed in 2006 at a cost of $35 million, partly funded by the Aga Khan Foundation.

Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul and Aasa Christine Stoltz in Oslo; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Tim Pearce

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