A Taliban attack on a popular Kabul restaurant killed 21 people, officials said yesterday, in the deadliest assault against foreign civilians since the war began nearly 13 years ago.
Thirteen foreigners and eight Afghans, all civilians, were killed in Friday's attack at La Taverna du Liban.
The dead included two US citizens working for the American University of Afghanistan, a victim identified by the United Nations as a Somali-American, two Britons - development specialist Dharmender Singh Phangura and close protection officer Simon Chase - two Canadians, two Lebanese, a Danish police officer, a Russian, a Malaysian and a Pakistani.
Phangura, who along with the Malaysian worked as an adviser for Adam Smith International, was to run as a Labour Party candidate in elections for the European Parliament.
Also among the dead were the International Monetary Fund's Lebanese representative, Wabel Abdallah, and Vadim Nazarov, a Russian who was the chief political affairs officer at the UN mission in Afghanistan. He was one of three UN victims.
Desperate customers tried to hide under tables as one attacker detonated his suicide vest at the fortified entrance to the restaurant before two other militants stormed inside and opened fire.
"We were in the kitchen, and suddenly we heard a big bang and everywhere was dark," said Atiqullah, 27, an assistant chef.
"There was blood everywhere, on tables, on chairs, apparently the attackers had shot people from very close range."
The restaurant has been a regular dining spot for foreign diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials and businessmen, and it was busy with customers on Friday.
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.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and called on US-led Nato forces fighting in Afghanistan "to target terrorism".
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 air strike in Parwan province last 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," the spokesman said.
After the blast, security forces rushed to seal off the small streets around the restaurant as sporadic gunfire erupted. All three attackers died in the assault.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse