KABUL: At least nine civilians were killed in a Taliban attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul, officials said on Friday, just weeks before Afghanistan’s presidential election.

Four teenage gunmen with pistols hidden in their socks managed to penetrate several layers of security at the Serena hotel, a prestigious venue favoured by foreign visitors to the capital, on Thursday night.

Sardar Ahmad, a 40-year-old journalist in AFP’s Kabul bureau, was among those killed along with his wife and two of their three children.

A colleague identified the four bodies at a city hospital and said Ahmad’s youngest son was undergoing emergency treatment after being badly wounded in the attack.

“The killing of Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two children was a big crime and is heartbreaking and sorrowful,” President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.

The attack was claimed by the Taliban, who have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 poll which will decide a successor to Mr Karzai.

A bloodstained election would damage claims by donors that the expensive intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state, as US-led Nato troops wind down their long deployment.

“We believe that such attacks have a direct link to the upcoming elections, and the enemies try to stage such attacks to frustrate the people of Afghanistan about their future,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told a news conference.The attackers reached the hotel’s restaurant around 8:30pm (1600 GMT) and began firing indiscriminately at diners, Mr Sediqqi said.

Mr Sediqqi said four foreigners were killed — from Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan and India. But all those countries except Canada denied any of their citizens were among the dead. Canada confirmed that two Canadians were killed.

The attack ended at around 11:30pm.—Agencies

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