UN staff and US teacher among 21 dead in Kabul attack
A picture taken on January 18, 2014 of the damaged sign of a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul following a Taliban suicide attack - by Johannes Eisele
Desperate customers hid under tables when 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, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) head of mission, and the restaurant's Lebanese owner, who reportedly died as he tried to fire back at the attackers.
A female 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 dead guards.
"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."
A haven for Afghans and expats
The Taverna has been a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials and businessmen for several years, and was busy with customers on Friday, the weekly holiday in Afghanistan.
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.
On Saturday 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.
Among the dead were a Briton and Malaysian working as consultants to the Afghan finance ministry.
The American University of Kabul said one US victim had recently joined its faculty of political science, and the other was a member of the student affairs staff.
"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".
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.
Mujahid said the Taverna du Liban restaurant was "frequented by high ranking foreigners (who) used to dine with booze and liquor".
After the blast, elite security commandos rushed to seal off the small streets around the restaurant as sporadic gunfire erupted. All three attackers died in the assault.
"A man came inside shouting and he started shooting," kebab cook Abdul Majid told AFP while being treated for leg fractures in hospital.
"One of my colleagues was shot and fell down. I ran to the roof and threw myself to the neighbouring property."
Kabul's Supreme Court, presidential palace and airport were all targeted in militant attacks last year.
"Once again the Taliban have demonstrated their complete disregard for human life and shown their intent for the future of Afghanistan," said General Joseph Dunford, the US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Underlining widespread insecurity across Afghanistan, a Taliban rocket on Saturday killed three football players at a local match in the southern province of Kandahar.
NATO forces are withdrawing from the country after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, but negotiations have stalled over a deal to allow some US and NATO troops to stay after 2014.
Afghanistan's fledgling security forces face a difficult year as insurgents attempt to disrupt elections on April 5 that will choose a successor to President Karzai, and as NATO's combat mission winds down by December.
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