By Guillaume Decamme, AFP
KABUL–Emotions ran high Saturday in a Kabul neighborhood where a Taliban suicide bomber struck a French restaurant popular with expats, killing two people including a 12-year-old boy hit by flying shrapnel. Friday’s powerful bombing of Le Jardin, the second Taliban attack in Kabul in a week, reduced a building to smoldering rubble and left the residential neighborhood strewn with debris and wrecked cars. Shopkeeper Ahmed Massoud’s cousin, a guard at the Afghan-owned restaurant, was killed as the bomber detonated his suicide vest when he stopped to frisk him. The intensity of the blast blew out windows and left a 12-year-old Afghan boy dead on the doorstep of an adjacent grocery shop. “I saw a huge flame and was knocked unconscious for a few minutes,” said Massoud, 21, pointing at a pool of dried blood on the floor. “Everyone in this neighborhood knew this restaurant was a high-value target. And we paid a huge price for it.” His comment typifies what many in Afghanistan feel, seemingly trapped in a hopeless quagmire after 14 years of war, with civilians increasingly caught between the government and a resurgent Taliban. The Taliban, who vowed to safeguard lives of ordinary Afghans before launching their annual summer offensive last year, typically attack places with a high density of civilians. The Taliban were unable to breach Le Jardin — a popular hangout for foreigners and wealthy Afghans — but the bombing at the entrance left the working-class neighborhood of Qala-e-Fathullah reeling in shock. “High-ranking officials came to the restaurant in their big cars with body guards in tow,” fumed 40-year-old taxi driver Mohammed Haidar.
“The blast devastated my taxi, left my house badly damaged and my wife and daughter are injured. Now where should I go? If Le Jardin’s owner was here I would grab him by his collar and demand an answer.” The owner of Le Jardin, which sports a large garden festooned with rose bushes, is said to be Hamid Akram, the powerful governor of Kabul, who was not available for comment. The bombing evokes painful memories of an attack in January 2014 on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul that left 21 people dead. The raid on Taverna du Liban saw gunmen mowing down diners and staff, including 13 foreigners enjoying an evening out at a low-key social venue. The latest bombing comes despite a renewed international push to revive peace talks with the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced a first round of dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan, U.S. and mainland China on Jan. 11 to lay out a comprehensive roadmap for peace. Pakistan — the Taliban’s historic backers — hosted a milestone first round of talks in July but the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.