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Suicide bombing at Afghan supermarket kills 8

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the supermarket attack in the Afghanistan capital, saying it was aimed at foreigners, in particular the head of the North Carolina-based security firm Xe Services.

January 29, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • An injured woman is escorted out of a Kabul supermarket hit by a suicide bomber Friday.
An injured woman is escorted out of a Kabul supermarket hit by a suicide bomber… (Rahmat Gul, Associated…)

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — In a grim demonstration of insurgents' ability to strike even in tightly guarded districts, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a supermarket in a wealthy enclave of the Afghan capital on Friday, killing at least eight people, including three foreign women and a child, and injuring more than a dozen others, police said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, declaring that the attack had been aimed at foreigners, in particular the head of a Western security firm.

The bombing, the deadliest attack in Kabul in nearly a year, gutted the ground floor of the store, igniting small fires, splintering storefront windows, collapsing shelves and leaving the floor strewn with a jumble of canned goods, cookies and cereal. Smoke billowed into the air as bloodied victims staggered into the street.

The explosion, in a neighborhood dotted with Western embassies and international organizations, heightened anxiety in the foreign community, which has been rattled in recent months by President Hamid Karzai's move to rein in private security firms, which provide protection to most foreign installations.

Karzai condemned Friday's bombing, as did the U.S. Embassy, which called it a senseless attack on a "peaceful place of commerce."

The blast shattered what had been a relative lull in attacks in the capital over much of the last year, although violence had been creeping upward in recent weeks. Western military officials had attributed the slowdown in suicide bombings and other attacks in Kabul to an intense campaign of raids by NATO forces targeting midlevel insurgent commanders loyal to the Taliban and to an offshoot, the Pakistan-based Haqqani network.

The Haqqani network has been blamed for a series of major attacks in the capital in the last three years, including the 2008 bombings of a luxury hotel and the Indian Embassy.

Speaking to reporters outside the shattered supermarket, Kabul's police chief, Mohammad Ayub Salangi, promised a thorough investigation.

He said the nationality of the dead child was not yet known. Afghan beggar children often cluster outside Western-style markets, pleading for small change.

A shopkeeper named Tameem said he was in his store about 30 yards away when the attack took place. "First we heard gunfire, and after a few seconds we heard a big bomb," he said. "Very harrowing."

Some witnesses in the supermarket also reported hearing shots before the bomber set off his explosives.

Friday is the main prayer day of the Muslim week, when many shops and businesses are closed. But it was a busy afternoon at the supermarket because it caters to a mainly foreign clientele, along with wealthy Afghans.

Security at the store was relatively light, with armed guards at the door, but without the bag checks and pat-downs that are common at many other Kabul establishments, especially those where foreigners gather.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the attack was aimed at a foreign security contractor. The Associated Press quoted him as specifying that the target was "the chief of Blackwater."

The North Carolina-based security firm, despised by many Afghans for heavy-handed tactics considered careless of Afghan civilians, has renamed itself Xe Services. It was not immediately known whether any of its employees were among the dead and injured.

laura.king@latimes.com

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