Security guards searched four attackers twice before allowing them to enter an Afghan hotel where the young men proceeded to the restaurant and killed nine diners, including four foreigners and an Agence France-Presse journalist, his wife and two children, according to chilling closed-circuit video broadcast on Saturday by a local TV station.
The question of how the gunmen penetrated the tight security of Kabul’s Serena Hotel — considered one of the safest spots in the Afghan capital — with pistols and ammunition is one of the biggest mysteries surrounding Thursday’s attack.
Authorities have said the attackers hid the weaponry in the soles of their shoes, wrapped in plastic. Afghan Ministry of the Interior spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi displayed the tiny pistols, which fit in the palm of a hand, ammunition and large shoes at a press conference on Friday.
However, the three-story hotel is surrounded by a fence and visitors must pass through two gates and a metal detector before crossing a courtyard to the lobby entrance. Bombings and shootings are common in Afghanistan, and many establishments search guests.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the assault, which it said proves it can strike anywhere.
The 14 minutes of video, obtained by the private Ariana TV station and shared with foreign media, show four men clad in traditional tunics and loose trousers known as shalwar kameez walking through the perimeter gate. They start toward security before they are apparently called back by the guards to be searched, with the timestamp reading 6:57pm.
The cameras then capture images of the men placing ID cards and other items on a tray by a conveyer belt before passing through the metal detector. A guard then gives each one a more thorough patdown before letting them through.
The Serena has one of the strictest protocols of places frequented by foreigners, but it is rare to be searched at the first gate, suggesting that something about the men raised suspicion.
Authorities said two of the gunmen went to the restaurant and killed seven victims by shooting them in the head, while two other victims were found in the halls. Police killed all four attackers after a three-hour standoff.
The camera seems to follow the men as they walk through the lobby, at one point turning to a man with a telephone before entering the hall leading to the restaurant.
The timestamp on the footage then jumps to 9:17pm. Two of the men are near the end of the hall past the restaurant, hiding behind walls with their pistols hoisted. About an hour later, the burst of a gunshot is seen as security forces apparently fire at one of the attackers and water begins flooding the area. The second man walks toward the women’s bathroom and is not seen again.
No security forces are seen in the hall or entering the restaurant before the final shot on the video at 10:20pm.
Seddiqi and police officials contacted on Saturday said they had no updates about the attack as the investigation is still underway.
Among the dead was Sardar Ahmad, a widely respected 40-year-old Afghan journalist with Agence France-Presse. His wife and two of their children were also killed, and the agency said their one-year-old son was badly wounded and hospitalized. Relatives said the baby was still hospitalized, but his condition was improving.