A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a minivan near Kabul’s airport killing at least 12 people, including eight South Africans, in an attack claimed as revenge for an anti-Islam movie that has triggered violent protests across the Muslim world.
General Mohammad Zahir, the head of Kabul police’s crime investigation department, confirmed that the bus carrying foreigners had been the target of today’s attack, while Afghans had also died. Those killed were employed by an aviation company at the international airport, the Associated Press reported. French nationals and Russians may also be among the dead, according to Ayub Salangi, Kabul’s police chief.
The Hizb-e-Islami, a guerrilla group led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and allied to the Taliban, carried out the attack in retaliation for the American-made video responsible for clashes across the Muslim world, Zubair Siddiqi, a spokesman for Hizb-e-Islami, said by phone. He said the bombing was carried out by a 22-year-old woman named Fatema.
Militants have threatened to step up their attacks in Afghanistan after the movie that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad was posted to the Internet. Hizb-e-Islami’s fighters are mainly based in Afghanistan’s northeast. Its chief, Hekmatyar, is a former Afghan prime minister and Mujahideen leader during the country’s civil wars of the 1990s when he helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with support from Pakistan.
South Africa’s government is contacting families of those who died and will give more details later, Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said.
Violent protests over the film posted on YouTube have roiled parts of Kabul over the last few days, mirroring demonstrations and attacks on U.S. and European-linked targets across the Muslim world. U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three colleagues were killed in an attack in Benghazi last week, while Muslim protesters in Tunis and elsewhere were killed in clashes with government security forces.
The protests are fueling anger in Afghanistan at a time when a security transition from exiting U.S.-led forces to Afghanistan’s army and police is already being hindered by a surge in so-called insider attacks.
In the latest strike, four U.S. soldiers who went to help Afghans during a battle with militants at a remote checkpoint were killed on Sept. 16, apparently by Afghan police, according to the Associated Press, the third attack by Afghan forces or militants dressed in security uniforms in three days.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force is suspending some joint military operations due to the attacks.
General John Allen, commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s coalition forces, “has directed all operational commanders to review force protection and tactical activities in the light of the current circumstances,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement today from Beijing, where he’s traveling with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The new policy “will likely lead to adjustments in exactly how, when and where” ISAF troops operate, he said.
So far this year, there have been 37 so-called green-on- blue attacks, resulting in the deaths of 51 coalition troops at the hands of Afghan allies or infiltrators, compared with 35 deaths last year, according to the NATO-led ISAF in Kabul. In 2008, there were two insider attacks.
NATO said today the bomber had struck on the main highway leading to the airport and that there were no military casualties. The force of the explosion threw the bodies of those killed onto the road surrounding the bombing site, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Siddiqui said in a phone interview.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at firstname.lastname@example.org