A suicide car-bomber struck a French restaurant popular with foreigners in Kabul, killing two people in a New Year’s Day attack that marks the latest in a series of brazen insurgent assaults.
Fifteen others were wounded in the attack on the Afghan-owned Le Jardin, which left the building engulfed in flames. The attack comes a day after announced four-way talks in Pakistan on 11 January, aimed at jumpstarting peace negotiations with the resurgent Taliban.
“We can confirm a suicide car bomb attack on Le Jardin,” Fraidoon Obaidi, the head of Kabul’s criminal investigation department said. “We are busy extinguishing the fire at the scene … two Afghans have been killed and 15 others wounded.”
The Italian-run emergency hospital in Kabul said on Twitter that the fatalities included a 12-year-old boy who was declared dead on arrival.
Security forces cordoned off the area and firefighters and ambulances were seen rushing to the restaurant, which sports a large garden festooned with rose bushes and is a popular venuewith foreigners and wealthy Afghans.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed on Twitter that several foreigners had been killed and wounded in the suicide attack. Insurgents routinely exaggerate the death toll in attacks on government and foreign targets.
The latest attack comes just days after Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, visited Kabul to try to prepare the ground for fresh peace talks with the Taliban. Both sides agreed to hold a first round of dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China on 11 January to lay out a roadmap for peace, officials in Kabul said.
Pakistan – the Taliban’s historic backers – hosted a first round of talks in July but the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of their longtime leader, Mullah Omar.
Afghanistan sees the support of Pakistan as vital to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. But despite the improving relations with Islamabad, analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off.
Afghan forces are battling to push back Taliban insurgents who seized large swaths of the key opium-rich district of Sangin in the southern province of Helmand. The offensive has prompted the first British deployment to the volatile province in 14 months.
The deployment, in addition to a recent arrival of US special forces in the region, comes a year after Nato forces formally ended their combat operations in Afghanistan. The British and US intervention has fuelled the perception that foreign powers are increasingly being drawn back into the conflict as Afghan forces struggle to rein in the Taliban.