KABUL, Afghanistan – Security for Westerners in Afghanistan took a sharp turn for the worse Saturday when an Afghan security guard working for the international shipping company DHL shot dead the company’s top two officials in the country before killing himself, Afghan officials said.
The early morning attack, which killed a Briton and a South African in a prosperous district of the capital, was as symbolic as it was bloody. It targeted a major multinational corporation at a time when Afghanistan is hungry for foreign investment. And it took place in the heart of the city even as Western military officials are trying to calm fears that Islamic militants are tightening a noose around the capital.
The shooting occurred only five days after another Westerner, a British female aid worker, was gunned down on a Kabul street. It also raised the possibility that insurgents might be seeking to strike at Western interests by infiltrating international organizations’ private security services.
But police said the circumstances of the attack remained murky, and that it could be a criminal dispute or vendetta of some kind. Two other people, one a guard and the other apparently an onlooker, were wounded.
The surge in violence could be intended to undermine Afghanistan’s new interior minister, Hanif Atmar. He was appointed this month by President Hamid Karzai in a bid to stem blatant corruption at the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for law enforcement.
Police and witnesses said Saturday’s attack unfolded when the guard opened fire with an automatic rifle as an SUV carrying DHL’s country director and his deputy pulled up in front of the company’s headquarters in downtown Kabul.
The area, which is across the street from the Iranian Embassy and not far from the headquarters of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, had been regarded as a relatively secure part of the capital. Afghan police took about a dozen local DHL employees into custody for questioning after the shooting, authorities said.
An Interior Ministry official, Mirza Mohammad Yarmal, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the guard who opened fire, an ethnic Pashtun, had been hired about a month earlier.
Security has deteriorated across much of Afghanistan as the Taliban movement, toppled in late 2001 by a U.S. invasion, has regrouped and rearmed itself. Until recently, however, the capital had been seen as something of a haven, although it too had been hit by several serious attacks in the past year.
Western military officials and diplomats say the violence is being driven not only by insurgents but by criminal gangs, who are thought to be behind a recent flurry of abductions of foreigners.