KABUL - Taliban gunmen attacked a luxury hotel on Thursday in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul, police said, and four of the assailants were killed in a shootout with Afghan security forces.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters all the gunmen were dead and security forces were in control of the hotel. He said he was not aware of deaths among the staff or guests, but checks were under way and Afghan special forces were on the scene.

The attackers appear to have entered the hotel around six in the evening with pistols hidden in their socks and waited three hours to start their attack, he said.

They fired on guests and then hid in bathrooms when security forces arrived, he said. The gunmen appeared to be under 18 years old. Two guards had been wounded, he said. No other casualties were confirmed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said the attackers had fired at foreign and Afghan guests celebrating the Afghan new year. “Suicide bombers have entered the Serena Hotel, heavy battle is underway, enemies suffered heavy casualties,” he said in a text message.

His information could not be immediately verified and no one Reuters spoke to reported hearing any explosions.

One person taken to safety along with other guests confirmed the shooting appeared to begin in the hotel restaurant. The Serena hotel, the most prestigious accommodation in the city, was hit by a Taliban suicide attack in 2008 that left eight people dead. The gunfire at the hotel on Thursday came on the same day that seven Taliban suicide attackers stormed a police station in the eastern city of Jalalabad killing 10 policemen. The target of the three-hour truck bomb and gun assault was a police station near the governor’s house in Jalalabad. The Taliban have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the presidential election on April 5, and a spokesman for the insurgents claimed responsibility for the early-morning suicide strike in Jalalabad which also left a civilian dead. Ten days ago Taliban leaders vowed to target the election, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces before the vote to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.

On Tuesday a suicide bomber killed 16 people at a crowded market in the northern province of Faryab. There was no claim of responsibility for that attack.

Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence as the Islamist militants display their opposition to the US-backed polls.

US-led NATO combat troops are withdrawing from the country after 13 years of fighting a fierce Islamist insurgency, which erupted when the Taliban were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.