United Arab Emirates says 5 diplomats killed in Afghan blast

Afghans pass the main gate of the governor's office in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The United Arab Emirates says five of its diplomats were killed in a bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the previous day. (AP Photos/Allauddin Khan)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that five of its diplomats were killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan the day before, the deadliest attack to ever target the young nation’s diplomatic corps.

The federation of seven sheikhdoms, founded in 1971 on the Arabian Peninsula, said it would immediately fly the nation’s flag at half-staff for three days in honor of the dead from the attack Tuesday in Kandahar, which killed at least 11 people.

Meanwhile, the Taliban denied planting the bomb in the Kandahar attack, which also wounded the UAE ambassador to Afghanistan.

Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s prime minister and vice president, said on Twitter that “there is no human, moral or religious justification for the bombing and killing of people trying to help” others.

The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency identified the Emirati dead as Mohammed Ali Zainal al-Bastaki, Abdullah Mohammed Essa Obaid al-Kaabi, Ahmed Rashid Salim Ali al-Mazroui, Ahmed Abdul Rahman Ahmad al-Tunaiji, and Abdul Hamid Sultan Abdullah Ibrahim al-Hammadi.

The Kandahar attack targeted a guesthouse of provincial Gov. Homayun Azizia, who was also wounded in the assault, along with UAE Ambassador Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi. The attack killed 11 people, said Samim Khpolwak, a spokesman for Azizia.

The Taliban claimed attacks earlier on Tuesday in Kabul that killed at least 38 people and wounded dozens. But on Wednesday, they issued a short statement blaming an “internal local rivalry” for the attack.

The Taliban have denied some attacks in the past that diplomats and security forces later attributed to the group. An attack inside the heavily guarded compound would represent a major breach of security, even in Afghanistan, a country long torn by war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday condemned the attack and ordered a probe into the incident.

An earlier UAE Foreign Ministry statement said the diplomats were in Kandahar as part of a humanitarian mission. Authorities said that included laying the foundation stone for the UAE-funded Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan orphanage and to sign an agreement with Kardan University for the UAE to fund scholarships there.

Emirati combat troops had been sent to Afghanistan after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban. The UAE had troops for years as part of the NATO-led mission, and the Gulf federation also trained members of the Afghan armed forces. Multiple daily commercial flights link the countries, with Dubai serving as an important commercial hub for Afghan businessmen.

Although the UAE is only 45 years old, Emirati diplomats have come under attack in the past, felled by assassins’ bullets.

Saif Ghubash, the UAE’s first minister of state for foreign affairs, died after being shot in an October 1977 attack at Abu Dhabi International Airport, an attack that apparently targeted Syrian Foreign Minister Abdul-Halim Khaddam. Khaddam later blamed the attack on Iraq.

In 1984, the UAE’s ambassador to France was assassinated by a gunman who shot him in the head outside his Paris home. A diplomatic club was named in honor of the slain envoy, Khalifa al-Mubarak, in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi in 2015.

Another Emirati diplomat was wounded in a shooting in Rome in 1984. Reports at the time linked those two attacks to the Arab Revolutionary Brigades, a Palestinian militant group.

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