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[January 18, 2014]
Taliban kill 14 civilians in suicide attack on Kabul restaurant: Three United Nations staff among the victims Briton also died in violence in city's diplomatic quarter
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A Briton was among 14 victims of a Taliban suicide squad that burst into a Kabul restaurant last night and gunned down the diners.
The dead also included the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Afghanistan and three members of UN staff after an unusually violent attack at the heart of the heavily fortified diplomatic quarter.
Targeting civilians in a lightly protected restaurant was a clear statement of insurgents' intent in a year critical for Afghanistan's future.
A presidential election in April will select the country's first new ruler in more than a decade, and foreign combat troops finish their mission, leaving the Afghan police and army to battle the Taliban alone.
Mohammad Zahir, the Kabul police chief, said there were both foreigners and Afghans among the 14 dead and four wounded but declined to give further information. The Foreign Office confirmed that a Briton was killed, but declined to provide further details.
Yesterday's attack began with a bomb blast that shook the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood shortly after 7pm, as one attacker apparently detonated his explosives at the restaurant's front gate.
It was followed by more than two hours of sporadic gunfire, as Afghan commandos besieged two other attackers who reportedly stole through a back entrance and holed up inside.
"Damn! Never experienced so close an attack. Shootings and screams of horror in the street. Broken windows in our house!" one Afghan, who lives near the restaurant, posted on Facebook.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying they had targeted "foreign invaders", although the Nato mission said there were no soldiers at the restaurant when the assault began.
The restaurant's owner, Lebanese citizen Kamal Hamade, was among the dead. "VV sad news, Kabul. Our dear Lebanese friend Kamal, the kindest of hosts, was killed in Taliban attack," BBC journalist Lyse Doucet said on Twitter.
The IMF said their country head was also a victim. Lebanese citizen Wabel Abdallah had worked in Afghanistan since 2008. "This is tragic news, and we at the fund are all devastated," managing director Christine Lagarde said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to Wabel's family and friends, as well as the other victims." UN spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement: "Three United Nations personnel, along with a number of those from other international organisations, are now confirmed dead.
"Such targeted attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law." The killing of the UN staff made it one of the deadliest days for the UN in Afghanistan in nearly three years. In April 2011, a rioting mob overran a compound in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing three UN workers and four Nepalese security guards. Eighteen months earlier, in the autumn 2009, five UN workers were killed in Kabul when gunmen burst into a guesthouse for the organisation's staff. The deaths had a far-reaching impact on how the UN and many other international organisations worked in the Afghan capital.
Although there are regular attacks on targets in the Afghan capital, it is rare for would-be attackers to make it through rings of security around the city, elude an extensive intelligence network, and strike at a civilian target around the unofficial "green zone" that houses Nato and US embassy headquarters.
A single suicide attacker killed an Afghan family, including a human rights chief, with a bomb at a nearby supermarket three years ago but security has been tightened since then at most places frequented by the Afghan elite or foreigners.
Yesterday's target, the Taverna restaurant, was a low-key but well-loved venue usually busy on a Friday, the Afghan weekend. It had guards with AK-47s and an air-lock entry system of steel gates, but those precautions would have been little match for a heavily armed suicide squad. Many streets are patrolled by police guards, but a well-prepared group could weave through back streets and avoid them.
Afghan families missing loved ones gathered outside the restaurant.
Ajmal was looking for his father, Mohammad Ali, an employee of a telecoms firm. "My dad called home this afternoon and said, 'You guys have your dinner without me, because I am going to a restaurant with my friends'," said Ajmal. He saw a friend of his father carried out injured. "His friend was seriously wounded in his leg. My father has disappeared and we are very worried." Captions: Afghan security forces outside the restaurant which was the site of the Taliban suicide attack last night in Kabul, Afghanistan Photograph: Massoud Hossaini/AP (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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