A total of 21 people, including 13 foreigners, died in a Taliban suicide assault on a popular restaurant in Kabul, police said yesterday, as witnesses gave horrific accounts of the carnage.
Desperate customers tried to hide under tables as 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 two US citizens, two British citizens, two Canadians, a senior IMF official from Lebanon and the restaurant’s Lebanese owner, who reportedly died after he tried to fire back at the attackers.
A Danish member of the European police mission in Afghanistan and a Russian UN political officer also died in the massacre on Friday evening.
The UN said that four of its staff had died, though it did not release nationalities.
“We were in the kitchen, and suddenly we heard a big bang and everywhere was dark,” Atiqullah, 27, an assistant chef, said by telephone as he attended a funeral for three colleagues.
“We used a back door to go to the second floor. Our manager went downstairs to see what was happening. We heard some gunshots and later found out that he had been shot dead,” he added.
The Taverna has been a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, aid workers, Afghan officials and businessmen for several years, and was busy with customers on Friday, the weekly holiday in Afghanistan.
Yesterday morning, the Taverna’s battered sign was still in place, hanging over the ruined remains of the entrance door. Several badly damaged cars also remained at the scene.
“Our latest figure is 21 killed, including 13 foreigners and eight Afghans,” Kabul police boss Mohammad Zahir said. “Five women were among the dead and about five people were injured.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the killings, saying that “such targeted attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law.”
The assault was quickly claimed by Taliban militants fighting against the Afghan government and US-led foreign forces in the country.
A militant spokesman said the attack was to avenge a US airstrike in Parwan Province on Tuesday night that Afghan President Hamid Karzai said killed seven children and one woman.
“These invading forces have 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 and incorrect claims about death tolls after attacks.