Taliban target US firm, kill 8 in Afghanistan
Foreigners are among dead in attack at store
KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up yesterday inside a supermarket popular with Westerners, killing eight people — some of them foreigners — in an attack that showed insurgents can still strike forcibly in the capital despite tightened security.
The Taliban said their target was an official with the US security contractor formerly known as Blackwater, whom they followed into the store. Although the insurgent group regularly attacks those allied with NATO forces or the Afghan government, it was not clear why they specifically targeted the company, now known as Xe Services.
A representative for USTC Holdings, which recently bought North Carolina-based Xe, said several Xe personnel were near the site of the attack but that no one associated with the company was killed or wounded.
It was the third deadly attack in Kabul in less than two months and the worst on a civilian target in the city since February 2010, when suicide attackers charged two hotels, killing 20 people.
Afghan officials have said that the relatively low level of violence in Kabul in the last half of 2010 could be credited to stepped-up raids on insurgent cells and the highly publicized “ring-of-steel’’ of checkpoints surrounding the capital.
The Finest supermarket sells American staples such as corn flakes, peanut butter, and pasta sauce but also delicacies like brie, caviar, and chocolate. It was packed with foreigners and upper-class Afghans shopping on their day off when shots rang out about 2:30 p.m., sending customers scurrying for cover.
The assailant threw a grenade into the aisles and then detonated his explosives, said Ahmad Zaki, a criminal investigator with the Interior Ministry.
“To my left, I heard a gunshot. A bomb went off. Everyone was running to the back of the building,’’ said Mary Hayden, a Western consultant.
The blast blew out the store’s glass doors and sparked a small fire in the frozen food section. Black, acrid smoke filled the main floor of the two-story building. Young men who sell phone cards on the street outside the store rushed in to help pull out the injured and the dead.
Police placed bodies on cots in the street outside the shop. When police ran out of cots and towels, they started carrying out bodies wrapped in publicity banners from the store.
The dead included two Afghan women, a male Afghan child, and two or three foreigners, said Deputy Kabul Police Chief Daud Amin. He said other victims had not been identified. Fifteen people were wounded, including a Briton, a Canadian, and three Filipinos, he said.
The identities of the victims were not immediately released by foreign or Afghan officials.
The store is on the edge of a heavily guarded neighborhood full of embassies and luxurious homes, but faces out on an intersection that is busy with all types of vehicles at any time of day. Police man a checkpoint outside the store where they regularly pull aside suspicious-looking cars.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, saying the “enemies of Afghanistan are so desperate that they are now killing civilians, including women, inside a food market.’’
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement posted on the group’s website that none of those killed were truly civilians because the attack was “in a secured area with commercial stores for foreign occupiers’’
The attack did not affect anyone that Xe had been hired to protect, said Harry Clark, an adviser to USTC.
Xe Services is one of many private security companies that are disliked by many Afghans because they appear to operate with impunity.