Suicide Bomber In Afghanistan Strikes Minibus, Killing Mostly Foreign Workers

by
staff
A suicide bomber killed 14 people on Tuesday, including 10 foreigners, most of whom worked as flight crew members under contract with the United States government, officials said. The attack brought to at least 28 the number of deaths attributed to unrest sweeping the Muslim world as a result of a video parodying the Prophet Muhammad.

Men assisted two distraught brothers of a minibus driver killed in Kabul on Tuesday.

A suicide bomber killed 14 people on Tuesday, including 10 foreigners, most of whom worked as flight crew members under contract with the United States government, officials said. The attack brought to at least 28 the number of deaths attributed to unrest sweeping the Muslim world as a result of a video parodying the Prophet Muhammad.

 A spokesman for an Afghan insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it was carried out by an 18-year-old woman “in response to the film insulting the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.”

The attack took place as word emerged that the American-led military coalition fighting the insurgents had sharply curtailed ground-level operations with the Afghan Army and police forces. The new limits were prompted by a spike in attacks on international troops by Afghan soldiers and police officers over the past six weeks. There was also fear that anger over the anti-Islam video could prompt such attacks, American officials said.

The deaths in Kabul on Tuesday were the first here so far connected to the video, and came as the authorities cracked down on attempted street demonstrations and asked Internet providers to block sites hosting a clip of the film, posted under the name “Innocence of Muslims,” shutting down access to Google, YouTube and Gmail in the process.

Access to Google and Gmail in Afghanistan appeared to have been restored by Monday afternoon, though officials said YouTube remained blocked for most Internet users. Google, which owns YouTube, declined a White House request to remove the video, saying it did not violate Google’s rules on hate speech. In Egypt, a radical cleric issued a fatwa calling for the killing of everyone involved in the video, according to a report posted on militants’ Web sites.

In the attack on Tuesday, the suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives at high speed head-on into a minibus carrying foreign workers on Airport Road, killing all 12 people aboard and two people on the road, according to the police.

The United States Embassy said in a statement that many of the foreign victims were employees of a private company that provides services to the United States Agency for International Development and other organizations in Afghanistan. American officials said they had been employed by a South African aviation charter company, ACS/Balmoral, working under contract for USAID as pilots and crew flying planes in what is colloquially known as “Embassy Air” to provincial capitals in Afghanistan.

A spokeswoman for ACS/Balmoral, Candice Teubes, said the 10 foreign victims were all believed to be South African citizens.

The authorities in Afghanistan provided conflicting accounts. An aide to Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi, the Kabul police chief, said at least six of the 10 dead foreigners were South Africans, five men and a woman; one was a Filipino; and the nationalities of the others were uncertain.

At least 28 people have been killed in six countries as a consequence of protests over the video since it was posted on YouTube in the days before Sept. 11. A Florida pastor, Terry Jones, whose small church had publicly staged burnings of the Koran last year, called attention to it in the United States, but it drew much wider scrutiny in the Muslim world after an Arabic language version began to circulate on the Web.

The film was produced in the United States, though its origins are still shrouded. American federal authorities identified the man behind the film as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55. Though the film does not appear to violate any American laws, the authorities took Mr. Nakoula in for questioning on Saturday over possible federal parole violations connected to an unrelated criminal conviction. That action has done little to tamp down the unrest.

The violence began on Sept. 11 when a mob attacked the American embassy in Cairo. The unrest quickly spread to Libya, where an attack on an American diplomatic mission in Benghazi claimed the lives of the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and three staff members. Protests at Western diplomatic posts  in the ensuing days took one life in Egypt, three in Tunisia, one in Lebanon and five in Yemen. The United States sent Marines to Yemen and Sudan to protect embassies there.

SITE Intelligence Group, a monitoring agency that tracks militants’ Internet postings, reported late Monday that a prominent Egyptian Salafist preacher, Ahmad Ashoush, had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying that “the killing of the director, producer, actors and everyone else involved in the film is mandatory.”

The fatwa was posted on militant online forums on Sunday, SITE said.

The branch of Hezb-i-Islami that claimed responsibility for the Kabul bombing is an extremist faction headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which fights against both the Taliban and the Afghan government. A moderate branch of the group has prominent members in the government, and Hezb-i-Islami has been seen as the insurgent group most likely to enter peace talks with the government.

The explosion took place on a road leading from the civilian entrance to the airport toward northern Kabul, near three adjacent wedding halls. The victims’ vehicle appeared to have been heading toward the airport.

A street vendor, Abdul Rahim, 40, who was 150 yards from the scene, said he saw the suicide bomber drive into the minibus on a narrow access lane that was part of Airport Road, a broad boulevard where the lanes are separated by concrete barriers. As the vehicles collided, the bomb went off with such force that both were flung into the air, ending up 100 yards away from each another, he said.