By Andrew Wilson
On Thursday November 16, a suicide bomber detonated a blast near supporters of one of Afghanistan’s most powerful political faction leaders. The attack occurred during a gathering of the Jamiat-i-Islami party. Fourteen were killed in the latest attack on the capital, reports the Washington Post.
Islamic State, by means of its Amaq News Agency, claimed responsibility shortly after, reports CBS News. Officials from the Taliban have denied any role in the bombing.
The New York Times reports that one of those killed was Afghan Police Lt. Sayed Basam Pacha. The bomber approached Lieutenant Pacha and his fellow officers at their heavily guarded gate, the only entrance and exit to the compound around the hall where the event was proceeding. Lieutenant Pacha shouted at the bomber to halt, but instead the man started running. Immediately, Lieutenant Pacha tackled the man, throwing his arms around him in a bear hug. A second later, the bomber triggered the explosive vest strapped underneath his coat.
Basir Mujahed, an Afghan police spokesman, said that there was no doubt the death toll would have been much higher without the Lieutenant’s body to smother the blast, reports the Telegraph. Said Mujahed, “He’s a hero, he saved many lives… Just think if that suicide attacker got past the gate, what would have happened – you cannot even imagine [sic].”
General Sayed Nizam Agha is Lieutenant Pacha’s father and a police commander. He wept while recounting his son’s story over the telephone, saying “my son sacrificed himself to save other people.”
The hall had been rented for a political meeting to show support for a senior party official, Atta Mohammed Noor, a former militia leader and governor of the Northern province of Balkh. A number of former Jamiat militia commanders, as well as former cabinet minister, Abdul Sattar Murad, and parliament member Hafiz Mansoor were in attendance. Mansoor stated that around 700 supporters of Atta were present at the conference, reports CBS News.
Atta has criticized Afghanistan’s National Unity Government, as well as President Ashraf Ghani. Although some suspect that the attack may be tied to the unity government, many Jamiat party members occupy high positions in the administration, including Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s chief executive. Atta has made many enemies inside the current government and been accused of many abuses. Despite this, he still commands a loyal following in the Northern region according to the Washington Post.
Atta was not at the hotel and had not been expected to attend the event, stated party officials. Hours after the attack, he appeared on his private TV channel to announce that “some government circles” were responsible for the attack and provided no further elaboration.
The Washington Post reports that the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, addressed the attack as “totally unacceptable.” It was “an act of terror and a serious violation of international law,” he stated. “The use of explosive weapons in civilian-populated areas must stop.”
Shamsul Haq Arianfar, a senior Jamiat member, was quoted in a telephone interview as saying “the function had come to an end, and people were having lunch when the blast was heard.” He said that many of the hotel’s windows were shattered, and that people fled out windows and the back door, fearing that more gunmen would enter the building.
The attack marks the second deadly bombing to target a Jamiat function in the past six months. In late May, a truck bomb exploded in Kabul’s city center, killing more than 150, including the son of a Jamiat party legislative leader. The following day, a suicide bomber struck his funeral, killing seven.