Afghan bodyguards fire into crowd

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan lawmakers’ bodyguards fired indiscriminately into a crowd after a suicide bombing and children bore the brunt of the onslaught, according to an internal U.N. report obtained yesterday. The report calls the shooting deliberate and criminal.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said the report is one of several conflicting views inside the world body and has not been officially endorsed.

The report by the U.N. Department of Safety and Security said it was not clear how many people died in the suicide bombing and how many died from gunfire that erupted after the Nov. 6 attack in Baghlan province. Sixty-one students and six lawmakers were among those killed.

The report said as many as two-thirds of the 77 people killed and more than 100 wounded were hit by gunfire. But it also said some estimates of the number of people shot were much lower, a likely reference to the Afghan government’s estimate. It described the gunmen’s actions as crimes.

“Regardless of what the exact breakdown of numbers may be, the fact remains that a number of armed men deliberately and indiscriminately fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians that posed no threat to them, causing multiple deaths and injuries,” the report said.

“It is believed that at least 100 rounds or more were fired into the crowd with a separate group of schoolchildren off to one side of the road bearing the brunt of the onslaught at close range,” it said.

Though the U.N. report described the firing as deliberate, some witnesses told The Associated Press that there was a blanket of smoke at the blast site so thick that they couldn’t see who was shooting. Other witnesses, though, could see clearly enough to identify the gunmen as the lawmakers’ bodyguards.

Adrian Edwards, the U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, said the report represented one of several conflicting views inside the U.N. and that its findings had not been endorsed.

“What hasn’t been resolved is that there is widely diverging, contrary views on this, and until those have been resolved, there is no complete finding,” he said.

According to Afghan authorities, most of the casualties were the result of the suicide attack. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary has said most victims were hit by ball bearings from the bomb, and not bullets. Bashary has said “a few” people were wounded by bullets.

The AP first reported Saturday that a preliminary U.N. report said as many as two-thirds of the 180 casualties were from gunfire. The weekly report obtained yesterday provided a more complete picture of the view of the U.N. Department of Safety and Security.

The report said that in the chaos after the suicide attack, bodyguards protecting the lawmakers fired into the crowd for several minutes.

“It has been confirmed that eight of the teachers in charge of this group of school children suffered multiple gunshot wounds, five of which died,” it said.

The report said that investigations “are being hampered by restrictions on witnesses and officials” and that despite several arrests, there have not yet been any reports of who is responsible, “particularly those who fired into the group of school children, being identified and brought to account for their crimes.”

The attack happened as about a dozen lawmakers from the parliament’s economic committee were being greeted by hundreds of children on a visit to a sugar factory in Afghanistan’s normally peaceful north.

Among the lawmakers killed was Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, the chief spokesman of Afghanistan’s only opposition group, the National Front. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Afghan officials say they do not know who was behind the bombing. The Taliban has denied it was responsible. A government investigation is under way.

One doctor who helped treat patients after the bombing told the AP that he was pressured by a government official to hide the truth about how many gunshot victims he attended to. The doctor refused to identify the official and spoke only on condition he wasn’t identified because of fear of reprisals.