The Taliban guerrillas claimed responsibility for an attack near a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people including the International Monetary Fund’s senior official in Afghanistan and three United Nations workers.
Three suicide bombers armed with heavy and light weapons stormed the restaurant on Jan. 17 in retaliation for a strike by U.S. forces in Parwan province, north of the capital, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in e-mailed statements. La Taverna du Liban was targeted because it’s where “invaders used to dine with booze and liquor in the plenty,” Mujahed said, according to a statement in English.
The restaurant was popular with foreign nationals, Afghan officials and business people, the city’s police chief Mohammad Zahir Zahir said in a phone interview. Thirteen of the dead were foreigners and the remaining eight Afghans, he said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday repeated his condemnation of the attack “in the strongest possible terms,” and expressed his condolences to families of the UN victims: Basra Hassan of the U.S., Nasrin Jamal of Pakistan and Vadim Nazarov of Russia. Khanjar Wabel Abdallah, the IMF official from Lebanon, was also named among the UN colleagues by Ban.
“Reckless terrorist attacks against civilians” are “totally unacceptable” and violate international humanitarian law, Ban said in an e-mailed statement, demanding accountability for all perpetrators.
Americans among those killed were “working every day to help the Afghan people achieve a better future,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement yesterday, urging the Taliban to put down arms and begin peace talks.
Taliban guerrillas today rejected U.S. demands to lay down arms and join a peace process. The U.S. should not “hope for us to lay down our arms” and the movement will fight until U.S.- led forces are withdrawn completely from the war-torn country, Mujahed said in an e-mailed statement.
Interpol will do “everything in its power to help the Afghan authorities bring those responsible to justice” for the “cowardly and murderous attack,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said in an e-mailed statement.
The IMF said its resident representative in Afghanistan, Wabel Abdallah, was killed in the attack. Abdallah, 60, had served in the position since 2008, the fund said in a statement.
“This is tragic news, and we at the fund are all devastated,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in the statement.
Two Americans who worked for the American University of Afghanistan died in the attack, the school confirmed in a statement yesterday without releasing the victims’ names. Senior school officials met yesterday to review security procedures while the university plans to proceed with student orientation and academic activities, it said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington on Jan. 17 that while the U.S. was still gathering information on the attack, all American embassy personnel were accounted for.
Two British nationals known to be among the dead have been named as Simon Chase and Del Singh, a U.K. opposition Labour Party European Parliament election candidate. A Danish citizen and one of the two Britons were both working with the European Union in Afghanistan before the attack, according to the EU representative’s office in Kabul.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said Singh, whose full name was Dhamender Singh Phangurha, “dedicated his life to working with people across the world who needed his support,” the Press Association reported. Chase was a former British soldier who had moved to Kabul to work in the security industry, PA said.
Among the dead were Canadian, Russian, Lebanese and British nationals, the Kabul police chief Zahir said, adding four people were wounded. The restaurant’s Lebanese owner, Kamal Hamade, was also killed, he said.
The attack happened around 7:25 p.m. in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of the city, which houses embassies, foreign non-governmental organizations and the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
A single heavy explosion was followed by an exchange of gunfire between Afghan security forces and militants. After the explosion, two militants entered the restaurant’s kitchen and began shooting, Zahir said. The two were shot dead later by Afghan forces, he said.
The explosion shattered the windows of the Norwegian embassy and other diplomatic offices in the same block as the restaurant, Gul Agha, an eyewitness, said in a phone interview.
The attack took place as Afghan President Hamid Karzai weighs signing a bilateral security accord with the U.S. that would allow a reduced presence of foreign troops. President Barack Obama’s administration says the deal must be completed quickly if the U.S. is to keep any forces in the country after most combat troops pull out at the end of the year.
Karzai on Jan. 15 condemned the U.S. for killing seven Afghan children and a woman in an air strike a day earlier in Parwan.
The U.S-led ISAF expressed regret for the deaths of two civilians “inside a building from which insurgents were firing.” Local officials were informed of the operation in a high-threat area with Taliban activity, some linked to Haqqani network, ISAF said in a statement.
Karzai said that his country believes the U.S. and Pakistan can save Afghanistan from such attacks by bringing the Taliban and other opposition groups to the negotiating table.
The Taliban have demonstrated once again “their complete disregard for human life,” and they must stop “premeditated and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, especially on those who are working to bring stability and prosperity to the Afghan people,” ISAF commander General Joseph F. Dunford, said in an e-mailed statement.
The bombing was the third incident in the Afghan capital in less than two weeks. On Jan. 4, a grenade detonated near Camp Eggers, a U.S. military base in the heart of Kabul, after it was placed on a civilian vehicle and found by a security team. There were no casualties or damage and it was unclear who placed the grenade on the vehicle, John Manley, deputy public affairs officer at ISAF, said by e-mail. On Jan. 12, a Taliban bomber on a bicycle blew himself up near an Afghan police convoy, wounding six policemen.
“This violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately,” Jan Kubis, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a separate statement condemning the attacks.