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Afghanistan: Two Suicide Bombings In Kabul Raise Questions About Motives, Repercussions

Security has been tightened in Kabul after two suicide bomb attacks in as many days killed a soldier from Canada and another from Britain. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports that the attacks are raising questions about who could be behind them and how they could affect presidential elections scheduled for this summer.

Prague, 29 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Speculation is rife in Kabul about the meaning of two suicide bomb attacks directed at foreign troops in the city over the last two days.

The blasts -- which killed one Canadian and one British soldier, as well as an Afghan civilian -- have led some observers to draw parallels between the Taliban-led rebellion in Afghanistan and the insurgency in Iraq.

That's because, until this week, there had been only one other successful suicide attack against foreign troops in Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime. That attack came last summer when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a bus, killing four Germans soldiers in the International Security Assistance Force.

"I think it would be very difficult for security officers to allow UN volunteers to monitor election sites at a time when the UN itself is restricting the movements of its staff -- even within Kabul."
The identities of this week's suicide bombers -- or even their nationalities -- have not been disclosed by investigators. Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, says the lack of information about the bombers is contributing to speculation about whether the perpetrators were foreign members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network: "It's obviously a new development -- the use of suicide bombers. Consequently, it does raise the possibility that this might be something externally planned or driven. [What remains to be seen in the weeks and months ahead is] whether the frequency of such attacks is going to rise to such a degree that will force a scaleback of the international presence [in Afghanistan]."

The commander of the British ISAF contingent, Colonel Mike Griffiths, says this week's attacks bore similarities. He says both attacks were well planned, and he is certain that neither attacker was acting on his own.

Griffiths says he believes the upsurge in violence can be "directly linked" as part of a pattern. He explained that the British soldier who was killed yesterday was attacked by a suicide bomber who drove a taxi into a British Rover jeep as it was patrolling on the outskirts of Kabul. On 27 January, a suicide attacker killed a Canadian ISAF soldier and an Afghan civilian by walking up to a Canadian ISAF vehicle and detonating an artillery shell he was carrying.

Deputy ISAF commander Major General Andrew Leslie also thinks the attacks could be linked. Leslie says military officials usually plan for a worst-case scenario. He said the worst-case scenario in this instance is to assume that the two attacks are part of a coherent terrorist strategy. If that is the case, Leslie says, yesterday's suicide attack may not be the last one in the Afghan capital.

A man claiming to be a spokesman for the ousted Taliban regime told the French-news agency AFP via satellite phone that both suicide attacks had been organized by the Taliban.

The man, who called himself Abdul Samad, said the attack on the British vehicle had been carried out by a 28-year-old Palestinian man with an Algerian passport. Samad said the attack on the Canadian patrol was carried out by a young Afghan man from Khost Province who was among 60 suicide bombers that infiltrated Kabul in December. The Taliban claimed last month that dozens of suicide bombers -- rarely seen in Afghanistan -- had infiltrated the capital and intended to attack foreign targets.

Parekh told RFE/RL today that more suicide attacks could damage the presidential election process due to take place across Afghanistan this summer: "It's going to make it much more difficult for international monitors to be deployed, or others involved in implementing the election process. President [Hamid] Karzai has basically requested the UN's assistance in administering the elections. But right now, I think it would be very difficult for security officers to give clearance for UN volunteers to go monitor election sites at a time when the UN itself is restricting the movements of its staff -- even within Kabul."

On 28 December, a suicide bomber blew himself up along with five Afghan intelligence agents near Kabul's airport. The Taliban also has claimed responsibility for that attack, saying the bomber had been trying to kill ISAF troops based at the airport.

ISAF bases in Kabul, as well as bases for Provincial Reconstruction Teams in southeastern Afghanistan, have repeatedly come under rocket attack. Afghan officials have blamed most of those attacks on the remnants of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda fighters or loyalists of the renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.