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Afghan News Director: Kabul Bombing “Tragic & Huge,” Victims Mostly Working-Class Civilians

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We go live to Kabul to speak with Lotfullah Najafizada, news director for TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s 24-hour news channel, about the massive bomb blast in the Afghan capital that killed more than 80 people and wounded over 350 when it exploded during rush hour traffic on Wednesday morning in the heart of the city’s diplomatic area. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. “The Afghan story [and] probably the Syrian or the Iraqi stories are just about numbers when attacks happen. And I hope it will change again for better one day, and you hear more about the human side of it,” Najafizada says. “What happened today is definitely a tragic and a huge attack, but this is not the only attack which happens in this country,” Najafizada says. “We lose tens of Afghans on a daily basis across Afghanistan. And some of them are not even in the news, even locally, because of the amount of incidents and attacks you see across Afghanistan.” Today’s bombing comes as the White House is weighing the Pentagon’s proposal to send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Afghanistan, where a massive bomb blast in the capital Kabul killed more than 80 people and wounded over 350 when it exploded during rush hour traffic on Wednesday morning in the heart of the city’s diplomatic area. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Officials have described today’s bombing as one of the biggest blasts ever in Kabul. It shattered windows more than a mile away from the explosion’s center and blasted a crater more than 13 feet deep in the ground. Nearby hospitals were inundated with wounded patients after the blast. This is Ghulam Mohammad.

GHULAM MOHAMMAD: [translated] I was at my desk, when I heard a terrible sound and became unconscious. I didn’t know what happened to me. And a few minutes later, when I opened my eyes, I found myself under the desk and saw blood coming out of my shoulder. It was a dreadful explosion.

AMY GOODMAN: Today’s bombing comes as the White House is weighing the Pentagon’s proposal to send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Among those who were killed in the blast was Aziz Navin, who worked for TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s 24-hour news channel, and Mohammed Nazir, who worked as a driver for BBC Afghan Service for four years.

For more, we go to Kabul, where we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Lotfullah Najafizada. He’s the news director for TOLOnews, who has lost one of their employees.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Lotfullah. Can you describe what took place today?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: It was 8:30 in the morning, and I was in my office, when I heard—when I—it shook the building. I thought it was an earthquake. And then there was a huge blast. We hear—in the heart of the capital, we hear a lot of blasts. I’ve heard probably dozens of blasts in—sitting in my office in the past few years. But this one was different. It was so loud. And we thought that probably we were attacked, and then we realized that it was about a few hundred meters away.

And, unfortunately, one of my colleagues, who was on his way to the office, lost his life. And we just buried him this afternoon. It was so difficult for us to go find him. We had to go and find his dead body among over 50 dead bodies, which were at the hospital, two hospitals, by noon. And most of the bodies were burned to death. And some bodies, you could just see a few body parts available, beyond recognition. It was a very, very tragic and barbaric attack.

And what’s even more unfortunate, that no one has claimed responsibility, and the Afghan government has failed to provide explanation that how this could have happened in the heart of the capital. And we feel that there is no accountability from the Afghan government’s side.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lotfullah, could you tell us what we know so far about the other casualties? You say that some people, their bodies were such that they couldn’t be identified after the blast, but do we know anything about the other now 80 or more people who have died in this blast?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: It’s certainly more than 80. There are no official number as of now, but could be around hundred or more, because most of the people wounded—some of them are in critical condition. They are sent to hospitals in different parts of the city. And I think, by tomorrow, we would be in a position to know how many people actually lost their lives. But even 80 people plus, that is a huge number, especially when most of them are civilians, working-class people, who are going to these embassies, NGOs, organizations, TV channels in this neighborhood, which is a working neighborhood in the capital. And they lost their lives, and it is certainly very, very difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: Lotfullah, can you tell us about your own worker at TOLO TV, Aziz Navin? Tell us more about him, where he was. He was killed in this explosion.

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Aziz was a 22-year-old colleague of mine. He was dealing with IT stuff here, and a very bright man, ambitious. He always had a smile on his face, very committed to his work. And he was walking to the office when the attack happened. He was close by. He was killed on the spot, and his body was taken to the hospital. This is not the first time that we lose our colleagues in attacks like this. We lost seven of my colleagues in an attack targeted at TOLO TV last year in January. So, for us, it’s not the first time, and—but every time it happens, it’s very heartbreaking, and it’s very difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s significant that this happened outside the German Embassy in Afghanistan? An attack—did you see it as an attack on the German Embassy? It was a diplomatic area. Parts of the German Embassy were affected, as well as the French Embassy.

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: It has affected a lot of embassies. This is an area where British Embassy is there; German Embassy, of course, next door; Indonesian Embassy; French Embassy; and, a little bit further, U.S. Embassy; and many big Afghan companies. One of the biggest telecom companies, Roshan, is badly affected. So, it’s hard to say which embassy or which organization was the specific target. But what we know from Afghan and U.S. military is that this truck full of explosives wanted to get into the Green Zone, where ordinary Afghans and ordinary vehicles are not allowed. So, they wanted to get in and probably even closer to RS or U.S. military base headquarters, presidential palace and Indian Embassy and so forth, and the U.S. Embassy, of course. But it was stopped by an Afghan guard asking for permit and papers, which I think they couldn’t provide, or it wasn’t convincing, and that was when the suicide bomber or suicide bombers—we don’t know how many were in the truck—detonated the explosives.

AMY GOODMAN: We were particularly struck today watching the networks in the United States. While, of course, there was mention of what just took place, the—just watching for hours, there was nothing in comparison to what happened in Manchester, the terrible explosion there that killed 22 people. Almost all programming stopped on that day. Can you talk about what’s happening in Afghanistan and whether you think the news coverage—I mean, you’re the news director for TOLOnews, 24-hour news station in Kabul, but do you think that the kind of attacks that we’re seeing in Afghanistan today get enough international attention?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Of course it doesn’t. Afghan story is an old story for Westerners. And a lot of people lose their lives here on a daily basis, and they’re not even reported. This one was huge. It was in the capital. It made headlines, but it’s about the number of the casualties, and it’s about the importance the location, not about the Afghan lives lost in this attack, not about how it has affected the society. And I’m very—I’m very sad to say this, that Afghan story, or probably the Syrian or the Iraqi story—stories are just about numbers when attacks happen. And I hope it will change again for better one day, and you hear more about the human side of it. What happened today is definitely a tragic and a huge attack, but this is not the only attack which happens in this country. We lose tens of Afghans on a daily basis across Afghanistan. And some of them are not even in the news, even locally, because of the amount of incidents and attacks you see across Afghanistan.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lotfullah, I want to go back to what you said earlier and what the news is suggesting, of course, that the Taliban has said they were not responsible for the attack. But some news outlets are reporting that the attack today was very similar to recent Taliban attacks and that more recently, for several attacks, the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, has claimed responsibility. So, could you say who you think might be responsible for the attack and what the motivation might have been?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: From what I understand, that nobody claimed responsibility, particularly the Taliban, an attack where you see a lot of civilian casualties, fearing public outcry and public criticism. If you had more military casualties in this attack, I’m sure you could see Taliban and others rushing to claim credit and claim responsibility. Well, the question is: Who has suicide bombers in this country? Who can really train bombers and bring trucks full of explosives in the capital? It is certainly these terrorist groups who are active and who have been doing this for many, many years. I’m not going to name anyone. As a journalist, I don’t think it’s appropriate at this stage for me to blame someone. But I think it is certainly some of these terrorist groups who have been taking Afghan lives for many, many years, and this is just one more.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Lotfullah, the U.S. is considering—President Trump is considering sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan. What effect will that have?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: It will help the Afghan forces and the Afghan government not to lose the war. I don’t think the troops will help to win the war. It will probably prevent the situation from further deteriorating across Afghanistan. And we see fighting across the country, and these troops are meant to be sent to different Afghan military units so they can train and they can watch Afghan forces in their day-to-day operations and help them do the job better. I think that’s a good thing. Whether this will change the course, I’m not sure. I don’t think that this will turn Afghanistan totally 180 degrees by a year or two. We are expecting 2017 and 2018 to be very difficult. But these troops, and the fact that there is a tension—and it’s important for how long these troops will be in the country—will make a difference.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lotfullah, before we conclude, very quickly, could you comment on the significance of this attack, as well as the attack that took place in Afghanistan on the first day of Ramadan? We also know that in Iraq, in Baghdad, there were two massive attacks. Why do attacks increase in this holy month of Ramadan?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: First of all, I don’t believe that terrorists and groups who are in Afghanistan now—we talk about 20-plus of them—they really care about Ramadan or Eid or Nowruz. And we always see attacks happening on such events, on such day, on such occasions. I don’t think that this had a lot of impact. This is—this is war, and this is over politics and power. And they try to seek the weak moment where the Afghan forces can’t defend enough the country. And that’s where they hit, and that’s where they strike. And we have seen so many attacks in the month of Ramadan in the past years, as well, during Eid days. Last year, just a couple of days before Eid, Taliban attacked Kunduz province, and they took over the whole city, and so many lives were lost.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Lotfullah, in 2016, in an attack, you lost seven of your colleagues. But TOLOnews, led by you, decided to stay. You’re remarkably brave to continue this 24-hour news station headquartered in Kabul. Can you talk about this decision to be there on the ground?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: I don’t know what other choices we had, to be honest. We talked to all of our colleagues, and over 90 percent of them were under immense family pressures to quit their jobs. But over 90 percent of them, in the same time, decided to stay and told us that now we should continue firmly and continue with even greater dedication and commitment. I’m very proud to be one of them.

I think this country has a future. This country has changed significantly. This country’s population, two-thirds is under 25. They dream for a better Afghanistan. And you can’t build this country without giving sacrifices or fleeing the reality that you have. People of my generation are very committed for a better tomorrow for Afghanistan, and we accept sacrifices like today, like the one we had last year, and there will probably be even more in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Lotfullah Najafizada, we want to thank you so much for being with us, news director for TOLOnews, a 24-hour news station headquartered in Kabul, Afghanistan. They, themselves, lost one of their colleagues today in the suicide bomb strike, which it’s being described as, by a number of news organizations, a major car bomb explosion in the diplomatic area of Kabul that’s killed at least 80 people and wounded at least 350 others. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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