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Nangarhar funeral suicide attack

September 5, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: A suicide attack at a funeral ceremony in Nangarhar on Tuesday killed and injured many.  The Taliban’s weak denial is unconvincing, but the perpetrator’s identity and  motive might remain difficult to ascertain amidst knee-jerk claims, counter-claims and the poor capacity of the Afghan government for effective investigation.

The suicide attack at yesterday was blamed on the Taliban.  The Taliban, although keen to claim Saturday’s attack against a NATO base (civilian collateral damage notwithstanding), have backed away from this one.

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — At least 25 mourners were killed when a suicide bomber struck at a funeral on Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said.

Amad Zia Abdulzay, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said 25 were killed and 30 were wounded, all of them civilians. A statement released by the Interior Ministry, which put the dead at 20 and the wounded at more than 50, condemned the attack as “terrorist, inhuman and un-Islamic.” The statement also blamed the Taliban.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, reached by telephone, denied that the insurgents had been involved. “We are not claiming credit for the attack, though we have a strong presence in the area,” he said. “What we think, based on our investigations, is that it could be an attack based on personal or tribal disputes.”

Analysis and Outlook

Attacking a civilian funeral is clearly much less acceptable than the excuse that attacking a military/infidel target would offer.  But the comments from Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, do not constitute a strong denial by any stretch: “We are not claiming credit for the attack, though we have a strong presence in the area…”.  In fact, I am not even sure it constitutes a weak denial.  Targeting key local government officials and powerbrokers – as this attack appears to have done – will, from a Taliban perspective, remain a useful tool for intimidating and destabilising and provides a “softer” target than Western military ones.

CSI Jalalabad?

On a practical note, in the absence of a detailed claim of responsibility, I suspect we are unlikely ever to get a convincing answer regarding the identity and motive of the perpetrator.  Insurgent activity looks highly plausible (but they have almost certainly, in the past, claimed attacks they probably didn’t do).  Personal grudges or other local issues frequently contribute, or form the main cause, as we have seen in other issues.  Only a very detailed understanding of local dynamics give the best chance of understanding what may have happened.  I don’t get a good sense whether major crime investigations are actively pursued once the initial media interest has passed (and normally passed on to the next violent incident).  But my hopes are not high.  Cordoning an area, methodical evidence gathering, questioning of witnesses and attempting to trace the perpetrator are not areas in which the authorities yet appear to show any significant skill.

Predictable claims, counter-claims and denials will often form the highly unsatisfactory end result of such attacks.

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