UN mourns loss of staff members killed in Kabul restaurant attack

19 Jan 2014

UN mourns loss of staff members killed in Kabul restaurant attack

KABUL - The United Nations is mourning the death of four of its staff killed on Friday in a terrorist attack on a restaurant in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

“This is another sad moment for the United Nations where our distinguished four colleagues have been killed by a terrorist attack in Kabul,” said the world body’s Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on Saturday.

Mr. Ban extended his deepest condolences to the families of Vadim Nazarov of Russia, Basra Hassan of the United States, Dr. Nasreen Khan of Pakistan and Wabel Abdallah of Lebanon.

While condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the attack, the UN chief also added that, “This is totally unacceptable and this is a violation of international humanitarian law. All the perpetrators must be held accountable.”

“As the United Nations mourns this terrorist attack and its victims, we remain committed to work for the peace, stability and development of Afghanistan,” he continued. “We fully support the transition of Afghanistan toward a better future in peace, development and security.”

The scene of the street outside the Lebanese restaurant a day after the attack. Photo: Haroon Sabawoon

Mr. Nazarov was a Senior Political Officer with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Ms. Hassan and Dr. Khan both worked for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as a Nutrition Specialist and a Health Specialist, respectively. Mr. Abdallah was the Resident Representative of a UN-affiliated specialized agency, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The attack on the Lebanese Restaurant Taverna – for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility and involved a suicide bomber attack as well as gunmen – left as many as 21 civilians dead, including the four UN staff members, while injuring others.

“I strongly condemn the targeting of civilians in any form, and, in particular, the continued use of suicide bombers,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, said in a statement soon after the attack. “This violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately.”

In that statement, UNAMA also reiterated its condemnation of attacks that deliberately target civilians as gross violations of international humanitarian law.

Photos of four UN staff killed in 17 January 2014 suicide bombing are displayed at memorial service in Kabul. Photo: Fardin Waezi / UNAMA

In its own statement, issued on Friday, the UN Security Council joined Mr. Ban and Mr. Kubiš in condemning the attack, and re-stated its support for the role of the UN and UN-affiliated organizations in Afghanistan.

“The members of the Security Council reiterated their serious concern at the threats posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and illegal armed groups to the local population, national security forces, and international military and international assistance efforts in Afghanistan,” the 15-member Council added.

The Council also said that no terrorist act can reverse the path towards Afghan-led peace, democracy and stability in Afghanistan, “which is supported by the people and the Government of Afghanistan and the international community.”

In a statement on Saturday, UNICEF said the two staff it lost in the attack were an integral part of the UNICEF team in Afghanistan and the larger community of international staff, “who are dedicated to improving the lives of others and building a better, safer world for all.”

“The loss of our colleagues is therefore not only a personal one; it is a loss to that indispensable cause. We honor their sacrifice, and deeply mourn their deaths,” the UN agency noted. “The depth of our shock and sorrow at receiving this news — and the magnitude of our outrage over this senseless violence — is difficult to measure.”

In a separate statement issued in the aftermath of the attack, IMF’s Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, said, “This is tragic news, and we at the Fund are all devastated. Our hearts go out to Wabel’s family and friends, as well as the other victims of this attack.”

Victims remembered at memorial service

While delivering a message on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the memorial service, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, said, “The UN family in Afghanistan suffered a tragic blow on Friday night with the loss of four of our colleagues and friends. Vadim, Nasreen, Basra and Wabel represented the highest ideals of our Organization. They came from different parts of the world and each brought unique skills and expertise. Yet they shared a common goal: a commitment, in some cases over many years, to Afghanistan and its people.” Photo: Fardin Waezi / UNAMA

On Sunday, the UN system in Afghanistan – joined by representatives of the international community in the country – held a memorial service in Kabul to pay tribute to their fallen colleagues.

“The UN family in Afghanistan suffered a tragic blow on Friday night with the loss of four of our colleagues and friends – Vadim, Nasreen, Basra and Wabel represented the highest ideals of our Organization,” said Mr. Kubiš, in a message delivered on behalf of Secretary-General Ban to the 500 people gathered for the service.

“Among the 13 foreigners [killed in the attack] were different nationals coming from different countries around one mission and one dream to work for Afghanistan: to work for peace in this country, for development, for human rights and humanity,” Mr. Kubiš added in his own remarks.

In a speech to the gathering, speaking of UNAMA’s Mr. Nazarov, who had served with UNAMA since 2005 and worked in the region for decades, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said the Russian national was “much-valued by the UN because of the depth of his knowledge and understanding of Afghanistan,” in addition to speaking of personal qualities such as his integrity and compassion, and the esteem he was held in.

“In my country,” Mr. Haysom said, “when a colleague, a comrade, passes on, we bid him farewell, a gentle journey, by assuring him or her that we will pick up his spear – by which we mean, in this setting, that we will continue to work for the vision and for the ideals for which he had worked and, in this case, died for. It is with this assurance that I and my colleagues bid Vadim Nazarov, good friend, farewell.”

The UN official also noted that his death had “deprived Afghanistan of a champion and supporter who had committed much of his life to the welfare of this people.”

Speaking of the UNICEF staff members, the agency’s Country Representative, Akhil Iyer, said Ms. Hassan was instrumental in developing and starting its Nutrition in Emergency programme “from its early stages into the successful programme that it is today, saving the lives of children.”

The UNICEF official said that Dr. Khan was a highly experienced and respected specialist in reproductive health, and in public health in general, “with a passion for saving the lives of new born children and pregnant mothers.”

Another of the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representatives for Afghanistan, Mark Bowden, spoke about IMF’s Mr. Abdallah, describing him as “a quiet and unassuming man.”

“I felt that Wabel was one of Afghanistan’s unsung heroes. It was Wabel in his IMF role that helped untangle the Kabul Bank mess and made the constructive suggestions that were needed to restore confidence in the monetary economy,” said Mr. Bowden.

In a meeting earlier on Sunday, Mr. Kubiš was received by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, who expressed his condolences for the fallen UN staff members. Along with representatives of the international community, both in Kabul and abroad, in the wake of the attack, the President had condemned the attack on the restaurant and extended his sympathies to the families of all of the victims.