KABUL, Afghanistan – Officials on Saturday raised the death toll from a Taliban assault on a popular Kabul restaurant to 21 people, including 13 foreigners, in one of the worst attacks on Western civilians in the 12-year war in Afghanistan.
The dead in Friday evening's dinnertime attack, which has shocked Kabul's closely knit expatriate community, included two Americans who worked for the privately run American University of Afghanistan, as well as the Lebanese country director for the International Monetary Fund, a Russian United Nations official and two Britons.
The Taliban said in a statement that the attack was retaliation for a NATO coalition airstrike last week in Parwan province that the group claimed killed many civilians. The coalition acknowledged last week that two civilians were killed but said the operation successfully targeted insurgents "in a high-threat area with Taliban activity."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the assault on the Taverna du Liban restaurant, a favorite hangout for expatriates in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, an area that houses the U.S., British and other embassies. But in a dig at the U.S.-led NATO coalition, Karzai's statement made oblique reference to the incident in Parwan, saying foreign troops must "know the difference between the victims and the terrorists."
"If the U.S.-led NATO forces want to remain committed to the people of Afghanistan, they must target the terrorists," Karzai said.
The president of the American University of Afghanistan, Michael Smith, sent an email to students Saturday saying that two members of the university community – Alexis Kamerman and Alexandros Petersen – were among the fatalities.
"We are all deeply saddened by the events Friday evening. It was a vicious attack on innocent people at a restaurant in Kabul," Smith wrote.
The president of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, confirmed that the group's representative in Afghanistan, Wabel Abdallah, also was killed.
Afghanistan's finance ministry issued a statement describing Abdallah, 60, as "a great friend of Afghanistan, and personal friend of many of us, who worked tirelessly with the [ministry] in supporting the relevant government agencies on economic reforms since 2008."
The attack on the lightly guarded Taverna – well known for serving Lebanese staples hummus and fattoush salad, as well as for the large portions of chocolate cake it offered to customers gratis – began when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the restaurant at about 7:30 p.m. Two other militants then stormed the dining room and opened fire on customers, some of whom reportedly tried to duck under their tables as the bullets flew.
In southern Afghanistan, a Taliban rocket struck a field in Maiwand district of Kandahar province, killing three children and wounding four others as they played soccer, said a spokesman for the provincial governor, Jawed Faisal.
The incident took place around 6 p.m. when the field usually is occupied by children and teenage boys playing soccer, Faisal said.
Baktash is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Mumbai, India.