Kabul suicide attack: does uptick in violence signal a fresh Taliban campaign?

Until the recent suicide attacks in Kabul, coalition officials were holding up the capital's relative peace as a sign of progress in their fight against the Taliban-led insurgency.

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    Police and other Afghans standing in the rubble that was left behind after a suicide bomber struck the Safi Landmark hotel and shopping center in Kabul on Monday.
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A bombing in the heart of Kabul shook the city Monday as militants carried out their second major attack inside the capital in less than a month, highlighting an uptick in violence that could indicate a new Taliban campaign.

A group of four gunmen opened fire on the guards at Kabul’s prominent Safi Landmark hotel and shopping center, and one of the attackers detonated a suicide bomb in the main entrance, killing two guards and injuring at least two more.

Monday’s attack comes just after nine people were killed in the Jan. 28 bombing at Finest, a Kabul supermarket popular with Westerners. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both today's attack and the Finest attack, saying that they were targeting the head of the Blackwater security company, now known as Xe Services.

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Although Afghanistan just finished a year of record violence, the capital city remained relatively quiet, with most of the fighting located in the volatile southern and eastern areas of the country. Some international security officials had begun citing the quiet and lack of violence in Kabul as a sign of progress there. With the two bombings coming in quick succession, however, it appears that militants may now be stepping up attacks in Kabul.

“The Taliban and Al Qaeda want to show that they’re still active and can do what they want,” says Hilal Oddin Hilal, a member of parliament for Baghlan Province. “The Taliban can still have their terrorist attacks anywhere they want, even in Kabul … [and] our intelligence organizations have not been able to find the terrorists until now.”

In the ramp-up to the parliamentary elections in mid-September, police increased security and Kabul managed to go from August through November without any serious attacks. Since November, at least and 20 people have been killed in Kabul bombings, 11 of whom died in the Finest and Safi Landmark attacks.

Fawad Hashimi works at a Samsung cellphone shop inside the Safi Landmark and was leaving the building as the attack started. If the government strengthens security and reconciles with the Taliban, he says, security will improve. As of now, he says, the government is not doing enough.

“We are amazed at the increase in violence. They installed armored doors and the attackers still got inside,” says Mr. Hashimi.

While security officials have noted the recent uptick in violence in Kabul, Zemeri Bashary, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Interior, says that the “situation is under control.”

“We’re definitely concerned about it, and we will take whatever possible measures to prevent it in the future,” says Mr. Bashary. “This could be a new tactic of the enemy” to target high-profile locations to draw more attention to the attacks, he adds.

While the security landscape of Kabul will not change as a result of recent attacks, Bashary says that the city may begin fortifying locations like the Safi Landmark that could prove attractive targets for militant groups.

In an official statement issued shortly after the Safi Landmark bombing, President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack against “innocent civilians that were out shopping.” He says that the attack revealed the “evil and anti-Islamic intention of the terrorists, who don’t want to see people live in peace.”

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