A Tragic Attack in Afghanistan. This time, it’s Personal

By Client Director for Afghanistan: Wynona Heim, '08

Eason Jordan (former CNN reporter and current head of Communications for the Malala Fund) said it simply: “It’s a war zone. Terrible things happen.” But even after nearly 10 years of working with the people of Afghanistan, they can still be a shock. 

On the evening of Friday January 17th, the usually haven-like atmosphere of La Taverna du Liban, a popular Lebanese restaurant known as one of the more secure places in Kabul to eat, was broken by a coordinated attack which killed 21 people, mostly patrons enjoying the busy dinner hour. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, which began with a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives at the security gate of the restaurant – between the two steel security doors that patrons had to go through before entering. This killed the three security guards on duty at the entrance and cleared the way for the two armed terrorists who followed, rushing into the restaurant to open fire at the mostly international customers inside.  

Their victims came from across the world, many of them working to build the economic and educational strength of Afghanistan. Eight of their victims were Afghans, two of them a newlywed couple out for dinner together. Three Americans, two British citizens, two Canadians, three United Nations staff members and a Lebanese national who had been the IMF representative to Afghanistan since 2008 were also killed.  It is a noteworthy attack in a neighborhood that is known as one of the more secure in the city, shared by Embassies and NGO offices. In the shootout that followed, Afghan security forces killed both of the gunmen, and were able to rescue the few remaining wounded inside the building. 

Perhaps the most moving part of the weekend came on Sunday, as friends reported a 200+ person protest that started outside the now-destroyed restaurant, laying flowers at the entrance and carrying signs declaring “No to Terrorism.” This was a powerful statement against the actions of three violent men, a clear message to the world that there are more Afghans who crave peace and justice than there are those who would impose senseless violence on any community.  Instead of tearing the international community apart from the Afghans they work with, it gave them an opportunity to come together in their grief and commitment to a more prosperous future.   

Among the 13 foreigners killed that night were two American colleagues from our partner school in Kabul, the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). One was a faculty member who had only recently joined the political science faculty at the AUAF, Professor Alexandros Petersen. The other, Lexie Kamerman, was on the student affairs staff, having taken the job “to help the young women of Afghanistan get an education and take their rightful place as leaders in Afghan society,” according to her family. Lexie was a good friend of Thunderbird for Good’s programs at the AUAF, often helping our program staff out for events, and attending program graduations to show her support for the Afghan women we shared friendships with.  

Wynona celebrating her birthday at Taverna in 2012

Our Afghan program staff here at Thunderbird for Good will miss being able to visit the little oasis that Kamal Hamade, the Lebanese owner, had created at his popular restaurant. Every article covering the attack tells a little bit more about Kamal’s kindness to everyone who entered his establishment, and his incredible bravery in getting many of his Afghan workers to safety before heading back into the chaos to defend his customers at the cost of his own life. He was also an entrepreneur working to make his business a success; a sustainable employer providing a demanding service in an incredibly difficult business environment; exactly the kind of businessperson that we work with at Thunderbird for Good every day. Our own experience with Kamal and Taverna matches with everyone else’s – he was an always gracious and generous host. It was that kind generosity that made my birthday a half a world away from home in 2012 one that I will never forget – a truly special experience complete with an excellent chocolate cake topped with candles and sparklers, and a birthday song that was joined by everyone dining there that night.

“Such senseless violence flies in the face of the sentiments of our students and the Afghan people who share our grief,” said Dr. Michael Smith, President of the AUAF in a statement to CNN. “We will pause to honor the courageous service of our colleagues as we continue to provide the high quality university education for which our students are so grateful.” 

We stand with our friends and colleagues in Afghanistan: shocked, but with renewed commitment to the people of Afghanistan.  We agree that the most effective way to stop this sort of extremism and senseless violence in the future is the availability of high quality education.