Afghan driver kills 3 Spaniards in base shootings, raising infiltration fears

By Robert H. Reid, AP
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Afghan driver kills 3 Spaniards in base shooting

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan driver working for Spanish police opened fire on a NATO base Wednesday, killing three Spaniards including two police trainers and an interpreter before dying in a hail of gunfire.

Afghans angry at the driver’s death stormed the base in northwestern Badghis province with stones and set fire to at least one vehicle, underscoring the brewing resentment among many Afghans over the presence of foreigners on their soil and the problems in rapidly expanding Afghanistan’s security forces.

Details of the shooting were unclear, but Spain’s interior minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, described it as a “terrorist attack.”

“I can’t say if the Taliban were behind this or not,” he told reporters in Madrid. “But what is clear is that it was a premeditated attack. The person who opened fire knew exactly what he was doing.”

He said the assailant had worked with the Spanish Civil Guard, a paramilitary force, since the unit arrived in Afghanistan five months ago to train Afghan police. The victims included two 33-year-old police trainers and a Spanish interpreter of Iranian origin, the minister said.

When word of the shooting spread, several hundred angry men gathered outside the walls of the Spanish compound, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Great, hurling stones and ripping down fences around the installation, Associated Press Television video showed. Gunshots rang out, although it was unclear who was firing.

Provincial health director Abdul Aziz Tariq said 25 people were wounded in the protest, most of them by bullets, with two in critical condition. Seven of those hospitalized were under 18 years old but their wounds were not life threatening, he said.

Police strung barbed wire in the streets to contain the crowd and restored order by mid-afternoon, said provincial government spokesman Sharafuddin Majidi. He said shots had been fired both from and toward the base, but NATO spokesman James P. Judge said there was no indication NATO soldiers had fired.

Majidi blamed rabble rousers for inciting the crowd.

However, many Afghans are often quick to blame international soldiers and contractors for acts of violence, reflecting public resentment about the role that foreigners play in their country.

Last month, a traffic accident involving American contractors and Afghans in Kabul triggered a small riot on the main road to the airport after a false rumor spread that the Americans had fired at the Afghans. Riot police contained the crowd which shouted “Death to America and hurled stones at the police. Four Afghans were killed in the collision, according to the capital’s criminal investigations chief, Abdul Ghaafar Sayedzada.

The Wednesday shooting was the latest in a series of attacks by Afghans against coalition partners, raising fears of Taliban infiltration as the U.S. and its allies speed up the training of Afghan security forces.

Last month, two American civilians and two Afghan soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on a base in Mazar-e-Sharif. In April, a U.S. Army trainer was killed by a suicide bomber at a base in Kabul who was dressed in an Afghan army uniform.

Also in July, an Afghan soldier killed three British service members at a base in Helmand province. He escaped. Last November, an Afghan policeman killed five British soldiers at a checkpoint in Helmand and escaped. The Taliban claimed both had joined the insurgency.

Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, head of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, told reporters Monday that coalition and Afghan forces kept a sharp eye out for possible infiltrators at the recruitment, training and deployment stages.

“So people are staying vigilant. And we are aware of the intent by people to try to do that type of infiltration,” Caldwell said.

Just three weeks ago, coalition forces detained a recruit at a police training site in the western province of Herat who was discovered to be a Taliban infiltrator from Pakistan.

Also Wednesday, dozens of students and teachers at a girls’ school in Kabul fell ill when an unknown gas that spread through their classrooms, education officials said. A total of 60 students and teachers from the Totia Girls School were treated, with all but a handful discharged by late afternoon, said Education Ministry spokesman Mohammad Asif Nang.

Similar cases of mass poisonings at girls’ schools, mainly in the north, have been blamed on the Taliban, who oppose female education.

Elsewhere, Australia’s military said one of its soldiers was among two international troops killed in fighting Tuesday in the volatile south. The other was an American.

A total of 49 foreign troops have been killed in Afghanistan this month, including 31 Americans, according to a count by The Associated Press. Australia, which has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, has lost a total of 21 soldiers over the years of fighting in the country.

Associated Press writers Daniel Woolls in Madrid and Amir Shah and Christopher Bodeen in Kabul contributed to this report.

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