July 27, 2008 / 12:07 AM / in 9 years

Afghan family devastated by suicide blast

<p>Abdul Wahid poses July 24, 2008 with his children and pictures of his sister (R), nephews and nieces who were killed in a suicide attack on July 7 in Kabul. Suicide bombs have killed well over 200 Afghan civilians so far this year. While foreign and Afghan troops are mostly the targets, some 80 percent of victims are innocent bystanders.Omar Sobhani</p>

KABUL (Reuters) - Abdul Wahid was asleep in England when he received a panicked phone call. "Buy a plane ticket and hurry to Kabul!" his brother's voice said.

It would take Wahid more than 24 hours to make the long trip from his home in Sheffield, England to the Afghan capital. Only there did he discover the shattering news.

Five members of his family had been killed in a devastating suicide blast outside the Indian Embassy.

A suicide car bomber rammed the gates of the mission in central Kabul on July 7, just as a diplomatic vehicle was entering the compound, killing 58 people and injuring 141.

Two Indian diplomats and two Indian guards were killed in the attack, but most of the casualties were Afghans queuing up to apply for visas.

The blast was so powerful it blew the embassy's metal gates back into the compound and destroyed the perimeter wall. It was the deadliest attack in the capital since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

"My brother wouldn't tell me what had happened, only that my daughter had been injured," Wahid says, sitting on the floor of his family home in western Kabul. His uncle picked him up from the airport and drove him straight to their home.

"When we got there, there was an ambulance and many cars parked outside our house," he says.

He then saw the bodies of his wife, his sister, his 10-year-old daughter and his sister's 2-year-old twins laid out on the dusty ground.

He buried them in a graveyard near the house later that evening.

Like many Afghans, Wahid left Kabul in search of a better life when the Taliban were still in power, moving to Britain nine years ago. Settling in Sheffield, he opened a pizza takeaway shop with two brothers and after some time moved his parents over.

Wahid was trying to get his wife and two kids to join him in Sheffield.

"I applied for a visa for my wife last September but it was rejected," he said, "so we were trying again this year."

The British Embassy in Kabul does not issue visas so Wahid's wife made an appointment with the British High Commission in New Delhi and was waiting in line to get an Indian visa.

"My brother told my sister and my wife to queue up early on Monday morning and he and my other brother would come to join them as early as possible, as they would be held up in traffic," Wahid explains.

The two women arrived at the embassy at 8 o'clock in the morning with Wahid's two daughters and his sister's four children. They got out of the taxi and waited for the brothers to arrive, seeking shade under a tree.

The last call Wahid's sister made to her brother in Kabul was at 8:15.

"Where are you?" she said.

"I'll be there in 10 minutes," his brother told her.

But by the time they arrived the whole road had been blocked off. At first the police would not let them past but eventually the brothers managed to push their way through the screaming crowds to the blast scene.

Their relatives had already been taken away by ambulance so the brothers spent the rest of the day searching, eventually finding them in different hospitals around the city.

Wahid's wife and sister died a few hours after arriving at hospital, the doctors unable to save them. His 17-month-old daughter and two eldest nieces survived.

As he talks, the children run around the room clapping and laughing, oblivious to the conversation. But their bandaged arms and scars are a reminder of their lucky escape.

ANGER

Suicide bombs have killed well over 200 Afghan civilians so far this year. While foreign and Afghan troops are mostly the targets, some 80 percent of victims are innocent bystanders.

As Wahid tells his story he pauses between sentences, his eyes fixed to the wall.

But his grief soon turns to anger. Like many Afghans, most of Wahid's ire is directed not at those who carry out the attacks, but at the government and its failure to bring security more than six years after the Taliban's fall.

"There is no explanation for how this bomb went off outside the embassy," Wahid exclaims.

Security had been beefed up at the complex and new blast barriers erected two days before the attack, without which the casualty figure could have been much higher.

Afghanistan and India have accused a Pakistani intelligence agency of involvement in the attack. Pakistan has rejected the allegation.

Afghan intelligence agents twice warned India of an impending attack, a well-placed official said, but most Afghans believe it was India that warned Afghan authorities who then failed to act.

The Afghan government, Wahid said, "knew about it two months ago! Why could they not stop this ... It's embarrassing. What did the government do with this intelligence?" he says as his father whispers to him to stay calm.

With no end in sight to the relentless violence, Wahid and his family have to carry on.

"I will take my parents and the children back to the UK," he says. "There is nothing here for me now."

He plans to bring his two nieces with him as their mother was separated from her husband who had remarried.

"They have no one else," Wahid says.

Asked if he has any hope for his country, Wahid shakes his head. "Not under this government!"

Additional reporting by Yousuf Azimy; Editing by Jerry Norton

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