Afghans and expats alike suffer in deadly attack on Kabul oasis

by Reuters
Saturday, 18 January 2014 18:09 GMT

By Mirwais Harooni

KABUL, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The newly-weds were buried side by side beneath a dried mulberry tree in a graveyard in the shadow of a mountain in the south of Kabul. Hundreds of relatives gathered in silence to pay their respects to an Afghan couple killed as they celebrated their love by eating out in a restaurant.

"He was a pure Muslim," said Haji Amin's brother, touching the hair of the 25-year-old inside his coffin. "He went to Mecca before his marriage and was advising everyone to do good deeds. God will never forgive those who killed this couple."

The young couple were among eight Afghans and 13 foreigners killed at La Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul's diplomatic district that was attacked by a Taliban suicide bomber and gunmen.

Among the foreign dead were the restaurant's Lebanese owner, Kamal Hamade, known to a generation of diplomats, aid workers and journalists as a figure akin to Humphrey Bogart's shrewd nightclub owner in "Casablanca" for creating an oasis of hospitality in a time of war.

Regular customers would be treated to double portions sent to their tables unrequested, private conversation about the local security scene, green fresh mint frappes, and slabs of chocolate cake, on the house, that arrived with the bill. During crackdowns on alcohol, wine was sometimes hidden in teapots.


"Like so many who had the privilege of knowing Kamal, I am absolutely devastated that he's gone," Soraya Nelson of U.S. National Public Radio wrote in a tribute. "I will raise a tea cup filled with red wine to you, habibi (dear friend). You won't be forgotten."

The restaurant was one of about a dozen places in Kabul that welcomed both middle-class Kabulis and many of the thousands of foreigners who have come to work in the capital in the 12 years since the Taliban were pushed from power for harbouring Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

This year will be a momentous one for Afghanistan: the NATO-led military intervention that began in 2001 is coming to an end. President Hamid Karzai, who has served since then, is due to step down. The future of the country is in doubt.

Among the United Nations staff killed was chief political affairs officer Vadim Nazarov, a Russian employee of almost 10 years with a rare understanding of Afghan politics who was pushing for a peace process with the Taliban.

"Nazarov was murdered ... The irony is that he thought negotiation with insurgents was the best way," said one of his friends.

The 60-year-old Lebanese head of the International Monetary Fund's mission in Afghanistan, Wabel Abdallah, was also killed, as was Del Singh, a British Labour party candidate for the European parliament.

For Kabul's expatriates, life is unlikely to be the same again.

Strict security measures were immediately laid down for staff at international organisations. Many were banned from any movement for social purposes, while restaurants and hotels were declared off-limits until further assessments had been made. (Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Jessica Donati; Editing by Peter Graff and Kevin Liffey)

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