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Kabul hotel guests describe lax security before deadly attack

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Kabul (AFP)

Visitors to an upmarket Kabul hotel attacked by Taliban gunmen have described glaring security gaps immediately before assailants went on a bloody rampage targetting guests, in a city constantly under threat.

Bags were not checked, scanners did not work, and body searches were nonexistent, according to witnesses, as the private company providing security to the state-owned Intercontinental Hotel comes under the spotlight after the 12-hour attack overnight Sunday killed at least 22 people, the majority foreigners.

Authorities are still investigating how the six militants were able to slip past Kabul Balkh Safety & Security (KBSS) guards and launch the assault with guns and grenades.

A witness and a security source told AFP that at least two of the gunmen were armed and inside the hotel before the attack began.

An AFP reporter and driver visited the landmark 1960s building on a hilltop overlooking the Afghan capital on Saturday, hours before the assault.

They described cursory security checks by KBSS in accounts confirmed by other recent visitors to the hotel.

"We were told the scanning machines were not working today," telecom executive Aziz Tayeb, who hid behind a pillar during the assault, said.

"I also didn't see any armed guard in the scan room just before you enter the building or inside," he said, adding his bags were not searched.

"In the past two weeks, I went to the hotel with my family twice. Out of the three or four checkpoints before the main entrance only one of them checked our car. We were not even body searched," Ahmad Shafi, a frequent visitor, told AFP.

An AFP driver said that when he arrived at the first checkpoint around 9:30 am Saturday, the hotel guard casually asked him: "Do you have a gun?"

The driver replied "No", and was waved through.

At a second checkpoint, guards looked for magnetic bombs on the car using a mirror and sniffer dog, he said.

A few metres from the hotel lobby the AFP reporter was checked with a handheld metal detector. It is unclear if the baggage scanning machine was working at the time. No armed guards were seen in the immediate vicinity of the hotel.

KBSS declined a request for comment by AFP Tuesday.

In a statement, the company said it would do "everything in its power" to cooperate with the investigation.

KBSS, which took over hotel security three weeks ago, was formed in 2004 and lists the United Nations and the European Union as among those it has provided services to.

A security source told AFP Monday that KBBS has responsibility for protecting the complex only, with its guards not allowed inside the hotel under a contract he said had been signed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

They were also not allowed to search VIPs, he said.

Witnesses have told AFP that the guards fled during the attack, though the security source denied that to AFP.

The attack followed security warnings in recent days to avoid locations frequented by foreigners in war-torn Kabul.

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