Friday, March 21, 2014

Afghanistan: 2nd Terror Attack on Kabul's Serena, Assailants Shoot, Fire at Guests, Staff, 9 Civilians, 4 Taliban Killed

According to CNN, a staff reporter for the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, his wife and two of his three children were among nine civilians killed in the Thursday night (March 20) attack on the five-star Serena Hotel in Kabul.

The incident began when four Taliban teenagers disguised as tourists entered the Serena Hotel, waited and commenced shooting randomly at hotel guests and staff once they were in place.

AFP said Afghani journalist Sardar Ahmad, 40, began working for the news agency in 2003 and went on to become its senior journalist in Kabul, "covering all aspects of life, war and politics in his native country" and specializing in security issues. He also founded the Kabul Pressistan private news agency.

The hotel was hosting special celebrations at the time of the attack to mark the eve of the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, AFP said. 

Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi, the deputy interior minister, said late on Thursday that those killed included Afghans and foreigners, children and adults. Six people were also injured.

Afghan security forces shot and killed  the four Taliban gunmen, all of whom were under the ages of 18.

Police said they believe the gunmen entered the hotel by smuggling compact pistols in their shoes and then hid in the bathroom for several hours before launching their lethal attack on staff and guests.

COMMENT:  One of the largest security vulnerabilities at the Serena is its being a gathering point for all persons who represent the country's best and brightest who also happen to be Afghanistan's movers and shakers. 

The first of two Taliban terrorist attacks on Kabul's Serena Hotel was an attack on the Serena's fitness center that occurred on January 14, 2008 for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.

A Norwegian delegation lead by Foreign Minster Jonas Gahr Støre was staying at the hotel at the time of the attack. The assault claimed six lives, including Norwegian journalist Cartsten Thomassen. Six others were also wounded. 

The Kabul Serena Hotel is a five star property designed by the Montreal- based Group Arcop Architects. Since its reopening in 2005, the Serena has catered to everyone worth knowing politically. The Serena also houses the Australian embassy in Kabul, which is one reason why luxury hotels should  never be used to house foreign embassies, as they are susceptible to being used caught up in  collateral damage.

As the Taliban entered the hotel, one of the militants detonated a suicide explosives belt, while at least one other, who was wearing an Afghan police uniform, began firing an AK-47 assault rifle. 

The militants were supposedly planning to target the hotel’s fitness and spa center, which is used predominantly by foreigners. The Norwegian photographer Stian Solum explained that he was one of those shot at by a man wearing an Afghan police uniform as he exited an elevator. 

According to Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Lene Dale Sandsten, Norwegian diplomats were in a meeting one level down from the reception when they began hearing small arms fire and a huge blast that shook the building.

Private Security Contractors employed by the US State Department Worldwide Personal Protective Services were some of the first responders to arrive on-scene. After arriving they began a methodical, room to room clearing of the Hotel. They evacuated over 20 foreign nationals in an armored Land Cruiser and Suburban vehicles. 

A Norwegian security force then evacuated injured and others from the hotel. The Norwegians used two armored vehicles two evacuate the injured.

Six people are believed to have been killed and six wounded. Two Norwegians were shot and severely injured in the attack. One of them was Carsten Thomassen, who was hit by three rounds and later died from his wounds; the other was a male employee from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They were transported by Norwegian soldiers to a Czech field hospital in Kabul, where Thomassen died on the operating table. 

Two hotel security guards were killed in the attack as well as a Filipino female employee at the hotel and a US citizen, Thor Helsa, who was a long-term political campaigner for David Wu, Bill Bradley and former US President Bill Clinton.

Having stayed at the Serena on two occasions, it is my impression that this hotel property is too refined for the realities of life in a conflict zone.

Alternatively, considering that the Serena has now been attacked by the Taliban on two occasions, both resulting in fatalities, it is my suggestion that those that own the property retrofit the security infrastructure of the complex so that it can successfully survive another terrorist attack without losing the lives of staff members and/or hotel guests.