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Suicide bomber kills nine in Kabul

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a supermarket two hundred metres from the British ambassador’s residence in Kabul yesterday, killing nine people including a child and four Filipinos, officials and witnesses said.

The bomber, a man described by one witnesses as being in his forties with dark skin and a long beard, shot his way into the shop before throwing one or possibly two grenades and then detonating his vest.

"I was inside the store," said Mary Hayden, a Western consultant. "To my left, I heard a gunshot. A bomb went off. Everyone was running to the back of the building." As the store went up in flames, survivors stumbled to safety amid a medley of peanut butter jars, exploded milk cartons and mutilated bodies.

"There was chaos inside and people were running away,” said Mehrab Gol, a phone card vendor who plies his trade outside the shop. “There were many wounded but there was nobody there to carry them away." Plastic bags fluttered across the corpses.

The Taliban and a second insurgent faction, Hezb-i-Islami, both claimed responsibility for the attack, which a Taliban spokesman said was directed at the head of a foreign security company. "It was an attack on the chief of Blackwater,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.

But given that no Blackwater employees are thought to have been in the store at the time of the attack, his claim may be an attempt to justify an attack against civilians by taping into popular anger against Western security companies. Blackwater — now known as Xe — is notorious for the role its employees played in a killing spree in Iraq, and is symbolic of the worst excesses of mercenaries employed to protect Western officials.

But Sami Kovanen, a senior analyst with Indicium Consulting in Kabul, warned that the assumption had to be that “this kind of attack will happen again.”

“It’s a new kind of attack—in many ways the first direct attack against the whole international community, against civilians,” he said.

“There have been really specific reasons behind previous attacks. The attack on the Bektar guesthouse [in October 2009] targeted UN election workers; the attack against the Indian guesthouse [in February 2010] targeted Indians. But [this one targeted] foreign civilians known to go shopping on Friday at this time.”

There have been a growing number of threats against targets in Kabul over the past two months, with restaurants frequented by foreigners featuring repeatedly on the list of targets. Several have come under Taliban surveillance recently.