Suicide attack near Kabul airport leaves 10 dead or wounded: officials

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KABUL, July 22, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A suicide bomber killed or wounded at
least 10 people at the entrance to Kabul international airport on Sunday,
officials said, as scores gathered to welcome home Afghan Vice President
Abdul Rashid Dostum from exile.

Senior government officials, political leaders and supporters were leaving
the airport after greeting the powerful ethnic Uzbek leader and former
warlord when the explosion happened.

Dostum, clad in a Western suit and sunglasses and travelling in an
armoured vehicle, was unharmed, said his spokesman Bashir Ahmad Tayanj.

“We can confirm 10 people have been killed or wounded in the explosion
caused by a suicide attacker on foot,” said interior ministry spokesman Najib
Danish, without giving a breakdown.

He said civilians including a child and security force members were among
the casualties.

Dostum, who is linked to a catalogue of human rights abuses in
Afghanistan, was mobbed like a celebrity as he left the chartered plane from
Turkey where he has lived since May 2017.

His return, which has been the subject of much speculation, comes amid
violent protests in several provinces across northern Afghanistan, his
traditional power base.

Thousands of Dostum’s supporters have taken to the streets in recent
weeks, shuttering election and government offices and blocking sections of
highways to demand the release of a pro-government militia leader and call
for Dostum’s return.

Expectations of the return did little to quell the unrest, with protesters
vowing Sunday to continue demonstrating until the burly leader of the Uzbek
ethnic minority tells them otherwise.

“We don’t trust the government. We will continue our protests unless
General Dostum tells us to stop,” Ehsanullah Qowanch, a protest leader in
Faryab province, told AFP.

Qowanch also repeated calls for the release of Nezamuddin Qaisari — a
district police chief and Dostum’s provincial representative in Faryab —
whose arrest earlier this month ignited the protests.

Another protester, Massoud Khan, said: “We have been on the streets for 20
days now. We are not going to stop our protests unless our demands are met.”

– ‘Known killer’ –

Observers say President Ashraf Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, gave the green
light for Dostum to come home to stabilise the north and secure Uzbek support
before next year’s presidential election, which he is widely expected to
contest.

Dostum left Afghanistan in May 2017 after he was accused of organising the
rape and torture of a political rival.

He had denied the allegations and said his departure was for medical
check-ups and family reasons.

Ghani in 2009 described Dostum as a “known killer”. Yet he chose him as
his running mate in the 2014 presidential election, underlining the sometimes
uncomfortable ethnic realities of Afghan politics.

Presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said Saturday that Dostum had
been “treated” and would resume his duties upon his return.

Seven of Dostum’s bodyguards have been convicted of the sexual assault and
illegal imprisonment of Ahmad Ishchi, a former governor of the northern
province of Jowzjan, in 2016.

Dostum allegedly had Ishchi abducted in Jowzjan and then kept him hostage
in his private compound for several days, where the captive was said to have
been tortured and sodomised.

Chakhansuri deflected questions about whether Dostum would face charges
over the incident, saying “the judiciary is an independent body, the
government does not interfere in their decisions”.

Dostum is one of several controversial figures whom Kabul has sought to
reintegrate into mainstream politics since the US-led invasion in 2001.

His heroic status in the north belies the barbarities for which he is
known.

Dostum, who helped the United States oust the Taliban regime in 2001,
allegedly allowed hundreds of Taliban prisoners to be suffocated in shipping
containers.