A TOTAL OF 21 people, including 13 foreigners, have been killed in a Taliban suicide assault on a popular restaurant in central Kabul, according to Afghan police.
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 Americans, two British citizens, two Canadians, a senior International Monetary Fund (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 Friday evening massacre, which was the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
The United Nations said that four of its staff had died, though it did not release their nationalities.
“We were in the kitchen, and suddenly we heard a big bang and everywhere was dark,” Atiqullah, 27, an assistant chef, told AFP by telephone as he attended a funeral for three colleagues.
“We used a backdoor 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.
“Afterwards, the police took us back into the restaurant to identify victims. We identified three guards who were killed.
“There was blood everywhere, on tables, on chairs, apparently the attackers had shot people from a very close range.”
Afghan security forces work at the site of the suicide attack [Image: AP Photo/Rahmat Gul]
The Taverna has been a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials and businessmen, and was busy with customers when the attack took place.
Like many restaurants in Kabul it ran strict security checks, with diners patted down by armed guards and passing through at least two steel doors before gaining entry.
This 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 chief Mohammad Zahir told AFP.
“Five women were among the dead and about five people were injured.”
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and called on US-led NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan “to target terrorism” in the country.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also denounced the killings, which his spokesman said were “completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law”.
Afghan security forces investigate the aftermath of the suicide attack and shooting [Rahmat Gul/AP/Press Association Images]
The assault was claimed by Taliban militants fighting against the Afghan government and NATO forces.
A Taliban spokesman said the attack was to avenge a US airstrike in Parwan province on Tuesday night that Karzai said killed seven children and one woman.
“These invading forces 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 claims about death tolls after attacks.