Attack On Kabul Restaurant Prompts Security Review

Non-governmental organizations and restaurants are raising security protocols in the Afghan capital Kabul after last week's attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant. Twenty-one people, mostly foreigners, were killed. Some members of the international community say they anticipate more violence as elections draw closer.

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People in Kabul are still grieving this morning for the 21 people who died in a suicide attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant. Thirteen of the dead were foreigners living and working in Afghanistan. They were dining at the restaurant La Taverna, partly because it was considered safe.

Now the international community is there reassessing what is or is not safe. NPR's Sean Carberry reports.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: A little before 7:30 last Friday night, a loud blast shook an upscale neighborhood of Kabul. Explosions aren't all that unusual in the city so people don't instantly panic here when something goes boom.

WILLIAM VAN HEERDEN: It took a few minutes to realize that there was something serious going on.

CARBERRY: William Van Heerden is the security director for Oxfam International. He says that when the blast was followed by gunfire that lasted for 10 to 15 minutes, it clearly meant trouble.

HEERDEN: Then, of course, you're to go into a sort of procedure mode, cease all movement, stay where you are.

CARBERRY: And make sure everyone is accounted for. Reacting to the incident is the easy part, he says. The hard part is trying to figure out the longer term response.

HEERDEN: There were an awful lot of indicators that we are in for a rather rough ride this year.

CARBERRY: He says that with the upcoming elections and the drawdown of foreign troops, the expectation was security would gradually deteriorate this year and they would have to tighten restrictions. But...

HEERDEN: This kill, we did not expect.

CARBERRY: Historically, attacks in Kabul have targeted military or government compounds. An outright massacre of civilians, mostly humanitarian workers, is completely unprecedented and it means a strict reevaluation of locations that organizations will allow their people to go.

NIGEL JENKINS: We have to analyze the event to see if this really is a change of tactics.

CARBERRY: Nigel Jenkins is the country director for the International Rescue Committee.

JENKINS: I think before the incident on Friday, our biggest fear was wrong time, wrong place.

CARBERRY: He says the concern was that you could be collateral damage, not be the target of an attack. The challenge now is determining from a single data point if attacks targeting civilians are the new normal.

JENKINS: Will there be another one, we don't know. And that uncertainty is the problem.

CARBERRY: For now, most organizations are in some form of lockdown. Some have instituted a complete ban on going to restaurants or restaurants that serve alcohol, since the Taliban said they attacked the Lebanese taverna because people drank there.

MOHAMMAD AZEEM POPAL: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: Mohammad Azeem Popal is the owner of Sufi, an Afghan restaurant usually packed with international workers and Afghan officials. He says he's seen about a 95 percent drop in business since the attack on the Lebanese taverna. Popal is adding new security features to the restaurant in hopes of staying on the approved list for international organizations.

But that might not be enough, given the expectation of increased violence as the April election gets closer, says Van Heerden.

HEERDEN: A lessening of restrictions is more or less out of the question.

CARBERRY: The attack on the Lebanese taverna has taken away some of the international community's little freedom here, as well as the lives of friends and colleagues. But it also might forge a deeper connection to the Afghan people who live with this kind of violence every day. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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