'Death to America', Afghans riot after crash
Chanting "Death to America," rioters stoned the US convoy involved in the accident
A US military Humvee speeds away under a hail of stones thrown by protestors in Kabul, following a deadly traffic accident involving US troops. The accident which killed three Ahgans sparked a riot in the capital with gunfire heard near the US Embassy. (Fraidoon Pooya - AP)
KABUL -- Violent anti-foreigner protests raged across Afghanistan's capital yesterday after a U.S. military truck crashed into traffic, touching off the worst rioting since the Taliban's ouster.
At least eight people died and 107 were injured before Kabul's streets calmed.
Chanting "Death to America," rioters stoned the U.S. convoy involved in the accident, then headed to the centre of town, ransacking offices of international aid groups and searching for foreigners in a display of rising resentment over civilian deaths in the war against insurgents.
Gunfire, at times intense, rang out across Kabul as hundreds of young men looted shops and set fire to police cars and station houses. Some people said U.S. and Afghan troops fired on the crowds.
The U.S.-backed Afghan government decreed a nighttime curfew and the city quieted before sunset.
A health ministry spokesman said eight bodies were delivered to hospitals in Kabul and 107 Afghans were treated for injuries
Anti-US riots grip Afghan city
Mobs rampage after truck causes crashBy Pamela Constable and Javed Hamdard
KABUL -- The Afghan capital erupted yesterday in the worst street violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, following a fatal traffic accident involving a US military truck. Mobs of men and young boys, many of them shouting slogans against the government and United States, set fires, attacked buildings, and clashed with police for about seven hours.
Hotel windows were raked with gunfire, a foreign aid agency was torched and looted, and numerous police posts were destroyed. Some rioters brandished AK-47 assault rifles; gunfire sounded throughout the city and clouds of black smoke wafted in the air. Dozens of vehicles were smashed and burned.
The violence was fed by rumors that US troops had shot and killed civilians, which US military spokesmen denied.
"I've been in Kabul for nine months and there has never been anything like this before...
Today it was angry teenagers - kids who have got nothing else to do. They are angry because they see all of the money being pumped into Afghanistan but still have no jobs."
Tim Albone, The Times, May 29, 2006
Last night, authorities imposed the first curfew in four years as the violence tailed off. President Hamid Karzai went on national television to condemn the rioters as "enemies of Afghanistan." Various news and official reports put the death toll as high as 20.
The riots exposed the bitter resentment that many Afghans harbor toward the US-led military forces that have been stationed here since the Taliban was driven from power. They also reflected the deep ambivalence many Afghan Muslims feel toward the growing Western influence here that includes high fashion and fast-food shops, sprawling aid compounds, and even rap music.
The public mood has been tense since a US airstrike killed at least 16 civilians last week in a village in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heightened fighting this spring. Afghan and US officials blamed Taliban insurgents who had taken shelter in village compounds and fired from them at US-led forces.
More fighting was reported in the south yesterday. Afghan officials said a US-led air attack in Helmand Province targeted a mosque where Taliban guerrillas had gathered; a Canadian spokesman characterized the place as a compound, and said it was hit by two 500-pound bombs.
The violence in Kabul disheartened many Afghans. "Today has set us back 10 years," said a distraught Afghan man who works for the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led contingent that patrols the capital. "We have been working so hard to build something here. Now the foreigners will all go away and take their money with them."
The accident that precipitated the rioting occurred at about 8 a.m. as a US military convoy was entering the capital on a steep downhill boulevard toward the Khair Khona district, a US military spokesman said. He said the brakes of a large cargo truck failed and it crashed into a total of 12 civilian vehicles, killing one person and injuring at least six.
The spokesman, Major Matt Hackathorn, said an angry crowd converged on the scene and threw stones, and Afghan police tried to push the crowd back to allow US military personnel to leave. He said US forces fired into the air "as a show of force," but no shots were fired into the crowd.
As word of the accident spread across the city, people shouted that US soldiers had shot and killed many civilians. That helped draw hundreds of men and boys into the roaming mobs. On the evening news, two TV stations showed crowds of people ducking and running while US military vehicles drove by amid the sound of gunfire.
Some eyewitnesses told IRIN that the casualties occurred when US and Afghan security forces opened fire on the demonstrators. Many news agencies reported 20 deaths.
Rioters tried to reach Karzai's palace but were stopped by police. They managed to destroy a giant portrait of him that covers an entire wall of the downtown municipal building.
At the offices of Ariana television, one of two new private stations here, broadcasters appealed on the air for help as sounds of banging and shouting echoed outside. They pleaded repeatedly with the Interior Ministry to send troops to save their building. The attackers eventually left before help arrived.
All major open-air markets in the city shut down. Schools were let out at midmorning and many teenage boys with book bags joined in the looting and destruction, witnesses said. The streets were virtually deserted until late afternoon.
The Defense Ministry broadcast repeated statements asking people to remain calm and warning that security forces would respond aggressively to looting and would do whatever was necessary to protect civilians.
The rioters tried to break into numerous buildings, including banks, guesthouses, and aid agencies. In several places they exchanged fire with police and security guards, witnesses said.
On one private videotape of a street incident, a guard could be heard shouting in the Dari language, "I am a Muslim. I am not an infidel. I am not an American. Please let me go."
Among the worst-damaged buildings were the offices of CARE International in the Qalaifatullah district, which was burned and ransacked, with computers and other office equipment stolen or smashed.
Another high-profile target was the Serena Hotel, a recently opened luxury hotel that the government hoped would attract foreign visitors and investors. Every large display window in the elegant building was riddled with hundreds of bullet holes.
Karzai, speaking on national TV last night, condemned "opportunists" for exploiting a simple traffic accident and said people responsible for the violence would be sought and treated severely. ``Those who have done this are the enemies of Afghanistan," he said.