Four young Taliban gunmen died Thursday night in a shootout with Afghan security forces hours after they slipped into a luxury hotel popular with Westerners in central Kabul and fired on guests during a new year's celebration, officials reported.
Two guards were wounded but no guests or hotel staff were hurt, said Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salang, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister.
Early Friday, however, sources told NBC News that at least nine guests were killed execution-style, including five women and two children. That claim could not immediately be verified.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sidiq Siddiqi said the four gunmen hid three hours in bathrooms at the Serena Hotel during a celebration of Nowruz, the Afghan and Persian new year marking the spring equinox.
He said the attackers, who appeared to be about 18 years old, had concealed pistols in their socks and slipped into the heavily guarded five-star hotel about 6 p.m. by claiming they were there for a special buffet. About 9:15 p.m., when the dining room would have been packed, the attackers emerged and fired at diners.
Commandos killed all four and secured the hotel two hours later, Siddiqi said.
The Taliban took credit for attacking the hotel, which is frequented by foreigners and dignitaries.
"Our mujahedin managed to get into the Serena Hotel from the back door," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an e-mailed statement to news organizations. "This attack shows that our people, if they decide to attack any place they can do it."
He also claimed in a text to Reuters that suicide bombers had entered the hotel and that "heavy battle is underway, enemies suffered heavy casualties." The claim could not be immediately confirmed, and Reuters said there were no reports of gunfire or explosions.
The hotel attack came hours after six Taliban fighters attacked a police station in eastern Afghanistan, killing 11 people and wounding 15 before dying in a four-hour battle, the Associated Press reported. The assault began when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle outside the station in Jalalabad, near the residence of the governor of Nangarhar province.
Pajhwok Afghan News reported 18 dead and 22 wounded.
The Taliban has threatened to disrupt forthcoming elections, which will mark the first democratic power transfer since they were ousted by the U.S.-led invasion after Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Many observers of the April 5 vote are staying at the 177-room Serena Hotel, which is home to a number of staff members of the United Nations and foreign delegations. It is located near the presidential palace, as well as embassies, government ministries and diplomatic compounds.
On its website, the hotel claims to employ "world-class security measures and procedures." It is heavily guarded and surrounded by a blast wall and a series of steel gates. Employees and guests must pass through metal detectors, X-ray machines and body searches.
The Serena was the target of a suicide bombing by Taliban militants in 2008 that killed six people.
Contributing: The Associated Press