Kabul, Afghanistan – Omar had never been to the Taverna du Liban.
The first and only time he went to the Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners but virtually unknown to most Afghans was to see if his brother Ali was alive.
A driver for an Afghan telecommunications executive dining inside, Ali was waiting in the car when three clean-shaven young men clad in white traditional piran tomban approached the restaurant.
As soon as the trio reached the entrance, one of them blew himself up. The other two attackers opened fire on the restaurant guards before entering the establishment to go on and kill all inside.
In total, 21 people died that chilly January 17 evening. The thirteen foreigners killed comprised the most lethal attack on foreign civilians since the war began in 2001.
The Taliban claimed near immediate responsibility for the attack saying it resulted in the deaths of mostly “senior people from the invading country Germany”. There were no reports of German casualties, however.
The following day the group released another statement saying the attack was in revenge for the deaths of seven children and one woman killed in a NATO airstrike two days prior. Despite releasing several subsequent statements with additional explanations for the killings, the Taliban failed to mention the Afghan victims.
In the days following, the international media too, focused almost entirely on the deaths of 13 foreigners from at least half a dozen countries.
The restaurant – prohibitively expensive for most Kabulis – was also eulogised in the media as a “precious light in the city“.
Families of the eight Afghan victims, mostly restaurant workers and drivers unable to afford a $10 kebab, said the deaths of their loved ones were mostly ignored.
“I don’t understand it,”Omar later told Al Jazeera. “This is Afghanistan, but when an Afghan dies in Afghanistan no one seems to pay attention.”
According a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 20 per cent more civilians were killed or injured in the conflict in the first six months of 2013 than the same period last year.
The Taliban and other armed opposition groups were blamed for 74 per cent of those deaths.
Among the Afghan stories that went untold was that of Akram, the guard who attempted in vain to tackle the first bomber before he could detonate his suicide vest.
Akram’s body, which was flung into a nearby sewer, was rendered “unrecognisable” even to those closest to him.
“We had to use DNA to prove who he was,” Aman, Akram’s brother-in-law, told Al Jazeera.
As the sole breadwinner of his family, it was economic hardship that led Akram to the Taverna for work, rather than pursuing the medical career he had been studying for.
“Even during Ramadan, he would sell ice on the road,” Aman said of his brother-in-law’s tireless work ethic.
|Naming the Afghan dead|
|Zabiullah Hafizy, driver
Mohammad Ali, driver
Akram, Taverna guard
Amruddin, Taverna guard
Mohammad Wasim, Taverna waiter
Haji Mohammad Amin, businessman
Wazhma, wife of four months to Haji Mohammad Amin
Afghan victims’ identities as verified by Al Jazeera at publication time
Atiqullah Aslami, one of two kebab cooks at the Taverna, said most of the staff’s families relied on the restaurant’s salaries for survival. In a country with a double-digit unemployment rate, Aslami denounced the attackers for bringing financial hardship upon the families, as well as killing their loved ones.
“This is not jihad, its murder. They made breadwinners into martyrs,” Aslami said of his dead co-workers, most of them in their mid-20s.
The Taliban, however, has constructed its own definition of civilian, which would exclude those they believe to be linked to the government or foreigners.
While Ali’s family wonders how the loving father could have been targeted for merely doing his job, to the Taliban, by waiting outside an establishment that serves alcohol and is frequented by foreigners, he was linked to the goings on behind the steel doors. The restaurant was described in a statement by the group as a den of “promiscuity and indulgence”.
Like Ali, Zabiullah Hafizy, another hired driver, had his fate sealed by his proximity to the restaurant.
He was parked only a few metres from the blast site. Police would later discover his body on the pavement.
“He was always laughing. He was so friendly,” Rohullah, Zabiullah’s brother said.
For the patrons inside, what came next was a flurry of gunfire and mayhem as the attackers went from table to table shooting anyone in sight.
‘Terrorism will lose’
Though the restaurant catered to local elites and foreigners, a group of young Kabulis set out to use the attack on the Taverna du Liban as a rallying cry against terrorism across Afghanistan.
Two days after the attack, upwards of 200 young Afghans gathered at the restaurant to deliver a message from Kabul: “We will win. Terrorism will lose,” they chanted.
However, some in Afghanistan’s small, but vocal social media scene wondered if the attack on an establishment off limits to most of the city’s residents was receiving disproportionate attention from a crowd of more well-to-do Afghans because of the foreign deaths?
“Taliban killed over fifty people in Ashura no protest against terrorism . Nato airstrike killed over 90 people [in] Kunduz no protest”, one young Afghan tweeted in reference to the December 2011 attack on a Shia commemoration and a March 2009 NATO air strike.
For Atiqullah, however, the gathering outside the restaurant was a fitting end to a horrific experience.
“Hopefully it woke those who are still oblivious up. The leaders of this country have to do something – defend or fight – but don’t stand back,” he told Al Jazeera.
Shortly after the protest, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the victims’ families.
“Karzai is good. He did a good thing for us. He promised to facilitate education and provide a house for our family,” Aman said of the Monday meeting.
Rohullah, however, was more cynical of the government’s reaction.
“In Afghanistan when someone dies, Karzai promises to pay the families, then they are forgotten. He should also remember those families in Kandahar and Helmand who lose their family members every day,” Rohullah said.
Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter @alibomaye
Additional reporting contributed by Zabiullah Karimi in Kabul.