Guards' bullets cited in deaths of Afghans

After a suicide bombing, many Afghans were raked by gunfire.

Associated Press
Published November 18, 2007

BAGHLANI-JADID, Afghanistan - Up to two-thirds of the 77 people killed and 100 wounded in a suicide bombing this month were hit by bullets from visiting lawmakers' panicked bodyguards, who fired on a crowd of mostly schoolchildren for up to five minutes, a preliminary U.N. report says.

Separate teams of U.N. investigators have uncovered conflicting information about the number of people hit by gunfire and are trying to reconcile the differences, according to two Western officials who have seen the internal reports. They spoke on condition they not be identified talking about preliminary findings.

But at least one of those reports - based on interviews with witnesses and medical authorities and a reconstruction of the bomb scene - says that of the roughly 77 people killed and 100 wounded, up to two-thirds were hit by the three to five minutes of gunfire the bodyguards fired into the crowd, one official said.

"A large number of people - and quite probably a majority - were killed and wounded as a result of gunfire after the blast," said the second official, a U.N. employee who was not further identified by the Associated Press. The official said one internal report is highly critical of the bodyguards' reaction.

Among the dead were 61 students and five teachers, said Education Ministry adviser Hamid Almi. Six members of Parliament and five bodyguards also died in the Nov. 6 attack. The deadliest previous suicide bombing in Afghanistan was in June, when 35 people were killed in an attack on a police bus.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said most of the victims were hit by ball bearings from the bomb, and not bullets. Bashary gave different casualty numbers than the Education Ministry, saying 59 people in total were killed and 100 wounded.

"There was a small number of people injured by bullets," Bashary said. "Bodyguards of lawmakers opened fire into the air and hit some people."

Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, said there is "very, very conflicting" information on the number of gunfire victims.

"The reports we're hearing are that significant numbers were victims of gunfire, but defining who died from gunfire, who died from the explosion is pretty difficult," Edwards said.

Dr. Khalil Narmgui, director of the Baghlani-jadid hospital, said his staff treated 11 gunfire victims - five killed and six wounded.

Baghlan police chief Gen. Abdul Rahman Syed Kheil said five suspects have been arrested in connection with the bombing. "No faction has claimed responsibility yet," Syed Kheil said.

Fast facts

43 suspected Taliban killed in clashes

A series of clashes in southern Afghanistan left 43 suspected Taliban militants dead, while a roadside bomb killed two NATO soldiers, officials said Saturday. In one of the clashes, a U.S.-led coalition operation aimed at disrupting a weapons transfer in southern Afghanistan led to fighting in which 23 Taliban militants were killed, according to the coalition.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb in the south killed two NATO soldiers and their translator on Saturday, the alliance said in a statement. Three other NATO soldiers were wounded in the blast that hit their vehicle, the alliance said.