Eight hours of chaos in Kabul as thousands armed with guns and knives take over the streets

The armed mobs were taking part in commemorations of the death anniversary of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 2:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 2:37pm

Ordinary life came to a standstill in the Afghan capital on Sunday with businesses largely shut and many people forced to stay indoors as thousands of young men brandishing knives and assault rifles took to the streets and fired indiscriminately, mostly into the air.

The chaos, which lasted for more than eight hours, further underlined the weakness of US-backed President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which is locked in deep internal discord and is facing rising militancy.

The firing – including by masked teenagers riding in convoys of motorcycles and vehicles with tinted glasses – left at least 13 people wounded, according to the Public Health Ministry.

It was part of an annual commemoration of the death anniversary of Ahmed Shah Massoud, a top anti-Taliban commander who was slain 17 years ago by suspected al-Qaeda operatives posing as journalists, just ahead of the September 11 attacks on the US.

The gunmen drove in full speed from one part of the city to another on Sunday, firing various types of weapons. In some parts, the firing was so intense that it was reminiscent of the civil war era in Afghanistan.

Some of the mob were only children – and some were not even born – when Massoud passed away. They chanted, “Long live Massoud.”

Massoud’s family and old comrades distanced themselves from the day’s events.

The firing subsided and some of the gunmen dispersed when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle targeted part of the convoy in a central area of Kabul.

Initial reports showed that three men in the convoy were killed and 14 were wounded, but officials said the toll could rise.

Earlier in the day, security forces said they opened fire and wounded a man seeking to blow himself up in a crowd of marchers at the memorial built for Massoud close to the US Embassy.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the reported attempt and the deadly blast, although Islamic State has been behind such attacks in recent years in Afghanistan.

Police said they arrested scores of the marchers and seized some vehicles, actions that many dismissed as futile attempts by the government to demonstrate control of the situation.

With parliamentary polls next month and a presidential vote in April, the scenes on Sunday shocked many people.

“I think everyone has had enough,” tweeted media mogul Saad Mohseni, director of the MOBY Group.

“They can commemorate at a stadium or somewhere out of the city. Kabul, a city of 5 million, cannot get hijacked because of a few hundred people,” Mohseni wrote.

As the day was coming to an end, there were reports that dozens of security personnel had perished in Taliban attacks.

The deadliest one occurred in northern Baghlan province, where the militants overran an army base after hours of clashes.