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21 killed in Kabul suicide attack

The Scene After a Bombing in Kabul
(Reuters) - A Taliban suicide bomber and gunmen attacked a restaurant popular with foreigners in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul, killing 21 people including three United Nations staff and the International Monetary Fund's top representative in Afghanistan.

Gunmen burst into the Lebanese restaurant spraying diners with bullets after the bomber blew himself up near the entrance around 7:30 p.m. local time on Friday, just as people had sat down for dinner.

Thirteen foreigners were among those killed, according to police, and details about the victims began to trickle through on Saturday.

The U.S. State Department said three U.S. private citizens were killed. Britain and Canada confirmed they each lost two nationals and Denmark said one of its citizens also died.

The American University of Afghanistan said two of its U.S. employees died in the attack on La Taverna du Liban, a popular dining spot whose charismatic owner, Kamal Hamade, was also killed.

"We are devastated by the news," Michael Smith, president of AUAF, said in a statement.

After the initial blast, sporadic bursts of gunfire were heard over the next hour. The two gunmen inside the Lebanese restaurant, located in Kabul's diplomatic enclave, were shot dead by police, an Afghan official said.

Most foreign forces are preparing to leave Afghanistan this year after more than a decade of war. Afghanistan watchers fear the Taliban will intensify attacks in the run-up to an election in April to find a successor to President Hamid Karzai.

At odds with Washington over the terms of the bilateral security pact that governs the withdrawal, Karzai is still deliberating whether to allow some U.S. troops to stay on.

If no agreement is reached, Afghan forces could be left to fight the insurgents on their own.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, calling it revenge for a U.S. air strike earlier this week that had also drawn condemnation from Karzai as eight civilians were killed.

The White House condemned the violence.

"There is no possible justification for this attack, which has killed innocent civilians, including Americans, working every day to help the Afghan people achieve a better future with higher education and economic assistance at the American University, United Nations, International Monetary Fund and other organizations," it said in a statement.

FAVOURITE HAUNT

Several kitchen staff survived by fleeing to the roof, where they hid until they were rescued by police.

"When I was in the kitchen, I heard an explosion outside. Then all the guys escaped up and I went to the roof and stayed with my back to the chimney for two or three hours," said Suleiman, a cook at the Lebanese restaurant.

By midnight, the operation to clear the area was still under way, with police nervously flashing lasers at passing cars and people on the dark, dusty streets.

The restaurant had been running for several years, and was a favourite haunt for foreigners, including diplomats, contractors, journalists and aid workers.

A couple of armed guards were usually on duty at the front entrance, which led to a courtyard in front of the main ground floor dining room.

The suicide bomb attack took place at that entrance, but accounts differed over where the gunmen had entered from.

"The target of the attack was a restaurant frequented by high-ranking foreigners ... where the invaders used to dine with booze and liquor in the plenty," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an e-mailed statement, written in English.

Karzai issued a statement on Saturday condemning the attack, using the opportunity to swipe at the United States for not doing enough to fight "terrorism."

"If NATO forces led by the United States of America want to be united and partner with the Afghan people, they have to target terrorism," he said in a statement. Karzai believes Washington could do more to persuade the Taliban to begin direct peace talks with his government.

UN PEACE SEEKER KILLED

The IMF's representative in Afghanistan, 60-year-old Lebanese national Wabel Abdallah, was one of the diners killed. He had led the fund's office in Kabul since 2008.

"This is tragic news, and we at the fund are all devastated," Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to Wabel's family and friends, as well as the other victims of this attack."

The United Nations initially said four staff were killed, counting the IMF's representative in the total. The other three included a Russian, an American and a Pakistani.

The Russian was a senior U.N. political officer trying to negotiate a start to peace talks with the Taliban.

"You can imagine the effect it has had on staff members here," U.N. spokesman Ari Gaitanis told Reuters.

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said two Britons were killed in the attack. Del Singh, a British opposition Labour Party candidate for the European Parliament, was one of British victims, and the other was serving with the EU Police Mission in Afghanistan. A Dane serving with the mission also died.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said two Canadians were killed, but it was unclear which organisation they worked for.

Foreign casualties were taken to a military base in Kabul. At a hospital morgue near the attack, Afghans screamed and cried as they mourned attack victims, some pressing scarves to their faces to stifle sobs. One young man, grieving for his dead father, kicked a wall and howled.

"One of the restaurant's cooks was wounded," said a doctor, Abdul Bashir. "Two dead bodies have been taken to the morgue."

While the south and southeast of Afghanistan have been the main theatres of action in a war that has dragged on for more than a decade, Kabul has suffered regular attacks.

Taliban fighters mounted several attacks in the capital during the summer months last year, but the assault on Friday inflicted far higher casualties.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina, additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin, Louis Charbonneau in New York, Anna Yukhananov, Lesley Wroughton and Steve Holland in Washington; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Sonya Hepinstall and G Crosse)

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arnold245joy January 20 2014 at 11:35 AM

In the UK muslims have been arrested under the Terrorist Act of 2000 for possessing and distributing books and publications which up until recently were for sale to anyone from Amazon. These publications included "Join the Caravan" and "The abscent obligation" and other books by the Islamic scholar Sheykh Abdullah Azzam. In Britain Muslims are deemed to be commiting an offence under the much broader definition of section 58 of The Terrorist Act 2000, which makes it an offence to "possess information of a kind likely to be useful to a person commiting or preparing an act of terrorism" Additionally in April 2006 Parliament made it a crime to encourage or glorify terrorism and to diseminate terrorist publications. The law was drafted in such a way as to remove any element of intention for the crime. So now those possessing books like Join the Caravan irrespective of whether the book was read, or used to prop up a computer monitor or to be used as a doorstop.This has all resulted in websites talking about the growing criminalisation of Islam in Britain. The websites talk of people who have been arrested who have had no links with terrorism and possessed the items purely out of intellectual curiosity. Whilst I support the prevention of terrorism and the arrest of those who commit, or are in the process of commiting a terrorist act.Some say that it is highly questionable to arrest those that have no links with terrorism, and who have only purchased a book to read. If the material someone is caught with in possession, or distributing is say about bomb making, or planning a specific attack then that clearly is a completely different matter. It would be interesting to hear from others on here about the laws in the USA and other European countries, as I am interested in Human Rights issues.

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wazdan January 19 2014 at 1:15 PM

US should clear what they achieved from all this invasion.

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wazdan January 19 2014 at 1:13 PM

USA will suffer for a long time even at home Pakhtoon will be taking revenge of all Americans has killed.It is a extract of pomp-lit distributed in Kandahar.

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pipetsa January 19 2014 at 12:47 PM

WE SHOULD BE OUT OF THAT COUNTRY AS THEY DO NOT WANT US AS EVEN THE PRESIDENT KARZAI HOWEVER IT IS SPELLED ASKED US TO LEAVE MANY TIMES.

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arnold245joy January 19 2014 at 1:19 PM

100 percent correct, bring the boys back home, and then no more American soldiers will get killed out there. Choose life and let them come home to their families and loved ones.

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annapegg33 January 19 2014 at 11:26 AM

First off let me just start by saying I am a huge Obama supporter, but I am sickened by all of this. I am tired of every time I turn on the tv or log on the internet, I see more Americans were killed by terrorists. We are over there trying to make it better for them, and they are blowing us up. There will be no peaceful end to this situation as long as the Taliban is around. I feel so horrible for the innocent men, women and children that have to live there, but we need to bring our people home..because this will never end. There is no negotiating with terrorists. They have a hate for us that runs so deep that they are willing to sacrifice their own lives if it means taking one of ours. Do you want your loved one being around that? These poor mothers and wives that are sitting here terrified every moment of every day wondering if two soldiers are going to show up at their door. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH ALREADY! What are we even still over there for anyways?

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pipetsa January 19 2014 at 12:45 PM

SORRY YOU ARE A FAN OF OBAMA WITH HIS LIES AND LACK OF A CLEAR POLICY. WE SHOULD NOT BE IN AFGANISTAN, ALL YOU NEED TO LOOK AT ARE THE IRAQ REASULTS, NONE AFTER MONEY AND LIVES LOST.

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English January 19 2014 at 11:25 AM

Wow a brave act, bob thise that are not armed, shoot those that are not armed, and then run away. And we to prove how smart a country we are keep giving them billions of dollars.

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Tammy is so hot January 19 2014 at 11:23 AM

seriously who cares?

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Bill January 19 2014 at 11:18 AM

What a crap hole..is anyone surprised about this or other bombings? Get the Hell out of this killing field and bring ALL our troops home. History does not allow peace with these factions.

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Roger January 19 2014 at 11:06 AM

And we now have one more instance of dead Americans that Barack Obama can turn his back on. Keep up the good work Mr. ' President ' ! Thats seven dead Americans that you will do nothing about.

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campbell1221 January 19 2014 at 7:41 PM

What about the 750 killed in Afghanistan then add the 4,500 killed in Iraq during Bush's reign "hypocrite"The only reason less were killed in Afghanistan is because Bush was no longer President for very long after they were deployed to Afghanistan this does not include 35,000 that were injured many very seriously..

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electeng79 January 19 2014 at 11:04 AM

Great to see brave freedom fighters resisting the u.s. Terrorist Killing Machine and it's puppet followers.

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The Pond Frog January 19 2014 at 12:30 PM

Brave? Attacking soft targets is about as cowardly as you can get. Hopefully you can be so brave and rid the world of your presence, making it a much better place.

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