UN staff, US academic among 21 dead in Kabul attack

Agence France-Presse

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The Taverna has been a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials and businessmen for several years

ATTACK. At least 14 people were killed, including foreigners, in a multiple Taliban suicide attack on a popular restaurant in Kabul. Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP 

KABUL, Afghanistan (UPDATED) – Survivors of the devastating Taliban suicide attack on a restaurant in Kabul told Saturday, January 18, of the carnage and bloodshed, as details emerged of 21 people, including 13 foreigners, who died in the assault.

Desperate customers hid under tables when one attacker detonated his suicide vest at the fortified entrance to the Taverna du Liban and two other militants stormed inside and opened fire.

Among the dead were three Americans, two British citizens, two Canadians, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) head of mission, and the restaurant’s Lebanese owner, who was killed as he tried to fire back at the attackers.

A female Danish member of the European police mission in Afghanistan and a Russian UN political officer also died in the Friday evening (January 17) massacre, which was the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to the four UN staff killed in the attack – a US citizen of Somali origin, a Pakistani, a Lebanese and a Russian – vowing the UN would maintain its work in Afghanistan despite the attack.

“As the United Nations mourns this terrorist attack and its victims, we remain committed to work for the peace, stability and development of Afghanistan,” the secretary general said.

“We heard a big bang and everywhere was dark,” Atiqullah, 27, an assistant chef, told Agence FRance-Presse by telephone as he attended a funeral for three of the restaurant’s guards.

“We used a back door to go to the second floor. Our manager went downstairs. We heard some gunshots and later found out that he had been shot dead.

“There was blood everywhere, on tables, on chairs. Apparently, the attackers had shot people from a very close range.”

Interior Minister Omer Daudzai said three police officers responsible for security in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district had been suspended pending an investigation.

A haven for Afghans and expats

The Taverna has been a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials and businessmen for several years, and was busy with customers on Friday, the weekly holiday in Afghanistan.

Like many restaurants in Kabul, it ran strict security checks, with diners patted down by armed guards and passing through at least two steel doors before gaining entry.

On Saturday morning, the Taverna’s battered sign was still in place, hanging over the ruined remains of the entrance door. Several badly damaged cars remained at the scene.

Among the dead were a Briton and Malaysian working as consultants to the Afghan finance ministry.

The American University of Afghanistan said one US victim had recently joined its faculty of political science, and the other was a member of the student affairs staff.

The US State Department later confirmed that a total of three Americans were killed in the attack.

“Our latest figure is 21 killed, including 13 foreigners and eight Afghans,” Kabul police chief Mohammad Zahir told Agence France-Presse.

“Five women were among the dead and about five people were injured.”

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, and called on US-led NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan “to target terrorism” in the country.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement: “There is no possible justification for this attack, which has killed innocent civilians, including Americans, working every day to help the Afghan people achieve a better future.”

Revenge attack

The assault was claimed by Taliban militants fighting against the Afghan government and NATO forces.

A Taliban spokesman said the attack was to avenge a US airstrike in Parwan province on Tuesday night (January 14) that Karzai said killed seven children and one woman.

“These invading forces launched a brutal bombardment on civilians… and they have martyred and wounded 30 civilians. This was a revenge attack and we did it well, and we will continue to do so,” Zabihullah Mujahid said.

The insurgents regularly make exaggerated claims about death tolls after attacks.

Mujahid said the Taverna du Liban restaurant was “frequented by high-ranking foreigners (who) used to dine with booze and liquor”. All three attackers died in Friday’s assault.

“A man came inside shouting and he started shooting,” kebab cook Abdul Majid told Agence France-Presse while being treated for leg fractures in hospital.

“One of my colleagues was shot and fell down. I ran to the roof and threw myself to the neighboring property.”

Kabul’s Supreme Court, presidential palace and airport were all targeted in militant attacks last year.

NATO forces are withdrawing from the country after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, but negotiations have stalled over a deal to allow some US and NATO troops to stay after 2014.

Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces face a difficult year as insurgents attempt to disrupt elections on April 5 that will choose a successor to President Karzai, and as NATO’s combat mission winds down by December.

Underlining widespread insecurity across Afghanistan, a Taliban rocket on Saturday killed three football players at a local match in the southern province of Kandahar. – Rappler.com

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