Two Canadian women are dead after a brazen attack by the Taliban on a hotel in Kabul, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Friends of Vancouver optometrist Roshan Thomas identified her on Twitter Friday as one of the Canadian victims.

Thomas and her husband, Roger, founded a school called the Sparks Academy in Kabul in 2003 after spending years volunteering in neighbouring Pakistan, according to an online article about them.

Thomas died alongside a second Canadian woman, Zeenab Kassam, a 37-year-old from Calgary who had spent the last year and a half volunteering as an English teacher at a school funded by the Aga Khan Foundation.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told reporters Friday morning that the Canadians were development workers, but did not work directly for the federal government.

Kris Janowski, spokesman for the Aga Khan, confirmed that both Thomas and Kassam were on volunteer assignments with the Aga Khan Development Network.

“We are all very shocked by what happened and extremely saddened. They were well-known in the community and were loved and respected,” Janowksi said.

Four young men managed to smuggle small pistols and ammunition stuffed in their socks and the soles of their shoes into the Kabul Serena Hotel, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

The men told the guards they were going to dinner and after minutes of searching for the restaurant they opened fire killing five Afghans and four foreigners.

Sediqqi said most of the civilians were killed when two of the attackers walked into the restaurant and began shooting, while the others were shot to death as the gunmen made their way through the hotel. Police killed all four attackers after a three-hour standoff, with shooting resounding through the cordoned off streets outside.

Baird called the attack “brazen and cowardly” and a “tragedy for the families,” as he boarded a plane Friday morning with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Ukraine as well as a nuclear security conference in the Netherlands.

“This is an example where people who are working in Kabul trying to promote values and development are under attack and we hope obviously there will be an investigation and people will be brought to justice,” he said.

MORE ON THESTAR.COM

In photos: Serena Hotel in Kabul

Harper declares May 9 national day of honour for troops

Legacy of loss: The families of Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Afghanistan veteran committed suicide on eve of last troops’ return

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault on the hotel and said the men were targeting those foreigners and dignitaries. He also claimed responsibility for an earlier attack on a police station in Jalalabad, which killed at least 10 people. The two attacks come in the weeks leading up to Afghanistan’s presidential election in April.

In order to enter the hotel, guests must pass through a gate, a metal detector and a pat-down. Authorities reportedly were stunned after the men evaded the tight security at the hotel, considered one of the safest places in Kabul. The restaurant was packed with Afghans celebrating the eve of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, as well as foreigners who frequent the hotel.

The attackers appeared to be about 18 years old and all were killed, Sediqqi said at a press conference, displaying photos of the small pistols and ammunition the attackers used and shoes in which they hid their weapons.

“Many of these people dedicated their lives to helping everyday Afghans build a better country for themselves, including education, and enhancing the role of women and girls in Afghan society,” Baird said. “For this selfless work to be met with violence, especially on the occasion of Nowruz, just further proves the depravity of the Taliban and those who support them.

“Acts of terror must not go unpunished, and those who perpetrated and supported this violence must be held accountable.”

Originally, Afghan authorities said only two security guards were wounded in the attack. Sediqqi said Friday that two of the victims were children who were shot in the head.

He added that details surrounding the incident have changed as authorities piece together how the shooting happened.

Around 5 a.m., Agence France-Presse confirmed that their reporter Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two of their children were killed in the shooting. Sardar Ahmad, 40, also ran the Kabul Pressistan media company and joined AFP in 2003 to become the agency’s senior reporter in Kabul. He covered all aspects of life, war and politics in his native Afghanistan, according to a statement tweeted by the agency.

“This is an immensely painful and enormous loss for Agence France-Presse,” said AFP CEO Emmanuel Hoog.

Hoog called Ahmad a “dedicated and courageous journalist, a cornerstone of our team in Afghanistan who delivered, every day, exceptional coverage of the news in extremely difficult conditions.”

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press