The Guardian, August 7, 2012

Bus blast at Afghan picnic spot kills nine

By Emma Graham-Harrison

A remote-controlled bomb has ripped apart a bus in a popular picnic spot just a few miles north-west of Kabul, killing nine civilians and injuring five others, in a worrying sign of violence encroaching upon the Afghan capital.

Paghman district is secure enough that a mob of furious villagers chased down and attacked a man they spotted detonating the explosives, something Afghans in insurgent-dominated areas would be unlikely to risk for fear of reprisals.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, condemned the attack.

"Terrorists who plant roadside bombs on public routes during the holy month of Ramadan, targeting and killing innocent Muslim civilians, are definitely neither Muslims nor Afghans," he said in a statement.

The Taliban periodically mount spectacular, deadly attacks inside Kabul, and there have been high-profile kidnappings and assassinations in the capital too.

Afghan villagers stand next to the bus that was hit by a remote-controlled bomb in Kabul Afghanistan
Afghan villagers stand next to the bus that was hit by a remote-controlled bomb in the Paghman district. (Photo: Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

But the buried bombs that are one of the biggest dangers of the war for non-combatants in the rest of Afghanistan are rare around Kabul, which has a heavy presence of Afghan security forces and foreign troops.

As the Nato-led coalition starts taking soldiers home, however, there are concerns that even once-peaceful parts of the country are seeing an increase in violence.

The site of Tuesday's early-morning bombing was just a few minutes' drive from a lakeside hotel where five men killed 13 people and took hundreds hostage in a 12-hour siege in late June.

The Taliban said that attack targeted a place frequented by officials and foreigners who drank and gambled, but the hotel was actually packed with ordinary Afghan families escaping the noise and chaos of the capital in an area that had previously seemed immune to violence.

Last month two large roadside bombs killed nine policemen in central Bamiyan province, the first Afghan security force deaths since 2008 in a place often considered an island of relative calm.

And this weekend an insurgent attack in the same province killed two New Zealand soldiers and injured six, New Zealand's highest loss from a single attack in more than a decade in Afghanistan.

Paghman is a lush area of valleys dotted with small walled gardens where Kabul residents often go at weekends to escape the city.

The bomb was hidden under a bridge, and exploded as the bus crossed it, Mohammad Zahir, a director of Kabul police, told Associated Press. The bus was believed to be carrying local residents to work in the city.

Police arrested the man who villagers had captured and beaten.

"A Taliban member who was behind the IED (improvised explosive device) attack in Paghman this morning was arrested by police. He is badly beaten by public," the ministry of interior spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter on Tuesday morning.

The Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility for the bombing, which appears to violate orders from the group's leader to minimise civilian casualties.

"In terms of the blast this morning I am not claiming responsibility. We are still researching and talking to our officials in Kabul," said insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The Taliban have a record of both claiming and denying attacks for strategic reasons, regardless of their actual role in the violence.

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