(CNSNews.com) – In the latest case of terrorists seizing on an anti-Islam film clip to justify fresh acts of violence, an Afghan faction allied with al-Qaeda and the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on Tuesday that killed up to a dozen people, mostly foreign civilians, in Kabul.
The attack, allegedly carried out by a female terrorist – if true, reportedly the first such incident ever recorded in Afghanistan – was claimed by Hezb-i-Islami, a group led by Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, listed by the United States as a “specially designated global terrorist.”
The suicide attack came hours after NATO said it was scaling back operations with Afghan soldiers and policemen to lower the risk of insider attacks and reduce local tensions over an anti-Islam video that prompted protests in Afghanistan.
So far this year, 51 international troops have been killed by Afghan forces or militants wearing their uniforms.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday the U.S. is concerned about the insider attacks, but they don't mean the Taliban is succeeding. He said the Taliban "are resorting to efforts that try to strike at our force, try to create chaos, but do not in any way result in their regaining territory that has been lost."
Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported that a Hezb-i-Islami spokesman said the early morning attack was in response to the Mohammed film clip that has been blamed for anti-U.S. protests in numerous mostly Islamic countries.
It quoted Kabul police chief Gen. Ayub Salangi as saying up to nine foreigners in a van near the airport were believed to have been killed in the blast, along with at least three Afghan civilians who were in the vicinity. (Later reports said the victims included foreign aviation workers heading to the airport. Eight were South Africans, four were Afghans.)
Hezb-i-Islami spokesman claimed that the foreigners killed were U.S. intelligence operatives, but Salangi said they were Nepalese, according to Khaama Press, an Afghan news agency. There was no immediate confirmation of this.
Hezb-i-Islami is the least known of the three main elements of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the other two being Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani network.
Hekmatyar, a former anti-Soviet mujahedeen leader, is a notorious and vicious warlord who analysts say was at one stage being groomed by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to lead Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew.
He held the post of prime minister briefly in the mid-1990s but the Pakistanis shifted their support to Omar’s Taliban. Hekmatyar spent several years in Iran, returning to Afghanistan in 2002. The following February the Bush administration accused him of taking part in and supporting attacks by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and designated him as a global terrorist.
He is not the first terrorist to seize on the furor over the amateur online film clip this month to justify new attacks.
The Taliban on Saturday tried to link the film, which it called “a revolting anti-Islamic act of blasphemy,” to a deadly attack on ISAF’s Camp Bastion in southern Helmand province in which two U.S. Marines were killed.
Although the attack was described by ISAF as particularly complex and costly – up to eight attack jets were damaged – the Taliban has not needed the pretext of a purportedly “blasphemous” video to mount countless previous attacks against coalition facilities.
Another Islamic terrorist, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, emerged in public for the first in nine months Monday to address a rally in southern Beirut and call for the beginning of a sustained movement against the “insulting” of Mohammed.
No attacks have yet been reported since Nasrallah’s appeal. On Friday a protestor was shot dead in northern Lebanon during a clash between authorities and protestors who set fire to U.S. food outlets.
“The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon is concerned about the continued threat of demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. interests in Lebanon,” the embassy said in a statement Monday. “U.S. citizens are also reminded that demonstrations and riots can occur with little or no warning.”
The furor over the film has handed Nasrallah an opportunity to boost Hezbollah’s stature at a time when its popularity has taken a hit over its close alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The State Department describes Hezbollah as “the most technically-capable terrorist group in the world,” and notes in its annual country reports on terrorism that “prior to September 11, 2001, it was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist group.”
The report attributes to the Shi’ite group attacks including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which cost almost 300 lives; and other deadly attacks during the 1980s and 1990s in which hundreds of people, including citizens of Israel, France and Argentina were killed.