A Co Derry resident was among 21 people killed when a Taliban suicide bomber and gunmen attacked a restaurant popular with foreigners in the Afghan capital.
Gunmen burst into the restaurant spraying diners with bullets after the bomber blew himself up near the entrance around 7.30pm on Friday evening.
Thirteen foreigners, including three United Nations staff and the IMF‘s top representative in Afghanistan, were among those killed, according to police, and details of the victims began to trickle through today.
Among the dead was Simon Chase, a former British soldier, was originally from Merseyside but had been living in Limavady, Co Londonderry with his fiancee Norma McDowell.
The healthcare worker from Limavady was today being comforted by family and friends. It is understood the couple lived together with two children in the Drumachose Park area of the town.
The ex-Cheshire Regiment soldier had worked as a nightclub doorman in Limavady before travelling to Kabul to work in the security industry.
Mayor of Limavady Gerry Mullan extended his condolences to Mr Chase’s family. “There is cloud that has descended upon the local community who are very shocked and saddened by his loss,” said the SDLP councillor. “He was a well-known and well-respected figure in the community.”
The US embassy said in a post on Twitter that at least two US private citizens were killed. Britain and Canada confirmed they had each lost two nationals, and Denmark said one of its citizens also died.
After theinitial blast, sporadic bursts of gunfire were heard over the next hour. The two gunmen inside the Lebaneserestaurant, 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, and there are fears that 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, Mr Karzai is still deliberating whether to allow some US 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 US airstrike earlier this week that had also drawn condemnation from Karzai as eight civilians were killed.
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, a clearance operation was still underway, 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 the front entrance, but accounts differed over where the gunmen had entered from.