By Mark Ellis —
Five Taliban attackers targeted what they thought was an underground church celebrating its first anniversary in Kabul. After they blew up a car at two adjoining gates, God confused their thinking and they mistakenly entered a heavily armed compound next door.
“By the grace of God, it’s really a miracle, that’s all I can say,” Heidi Kuhn, chief executive at Roots of Peace, told the New York Times. Roots of Peace is an American contractor that runs agricultural projects financed by the USAID.
The attack began March 28th with a large suicide car bomb that blew open the gates of the Christian day care center, according to the New York Times. Then a smaller bomb blew open the gates of the Roots of Peace house, which was used as residential quarters for its staff.
The five Taliban members — armed with assault rifles and wearing suicide bomb vests — got confused, and went through the gates of the Roots of Peace facility instead of the day care center. The day care center had no guards and residents usually left the doors open.
A wild, four-hour gun battle ensued between the Taliban and security hired by Roots of Peace.
The contractors at Roots of Peace were heavily armed and ready, and had taken the precaution of blocking their front gate with an armored Land Cruiser, which guards used to take cover behind and shoot at the attackers, according to Gary Kuhn, president of Roots of Peace.
That slowed the attackers enough for the guards and the five foreign residents to retreat into the house and upstairs. “There’s a circular staircase which is very hard to take cover on. One tried coming up it, and the guard shot him,” Mr. Kuhn told the New York Times.
Two of the American residents hid in their bedroom closets. “One very big, tall man hid in a closet and piled clothes on top of himself, while the Taliban were shooting in his room, throwing flash grenades, and even opened the closet door but didn’t see him,” said Heidi Kuhn.
“It’s a miracle all of them escaped,” she added.
Afghan officials said all five Taliban attackers were killed, including one who committed suicide. The death toll also included two Afghan civilians, one of them a young girl. Two Roots of Peace guards were wounded.
While the gun battle was underway, next door, at the day care center, police rescued 24 people, according to a government official at the scene. Journalists said there were at least five young Western children among the group, an unusual sight in Kabul.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, reached by telephone while the attack was still underway, asserted the target had been “a church used to convert Muslims to Christianity,” according to the New York Times.
Mujahid said the Taliban had received intelligence verifying the alleged underground church was celebrating its first anniversary in Kabul, and the insurgents timed their attack to coincide with the celebration.
Despite U.S. influence and involvement in Afghanistan, there are no known churches there, and the practice of Christianity is outlawed. The conversion of Muslims to Christianity is considered a crime. Aid groups have sometimes been accused of being missionaries, and two were expelled by Afghanistan in 2010, according to the New York Times.
Mr. Kuhn said the day care center was not a church, as the Taliban had alleged, but he said “they do have religious services there on certain days.”
Americans and Europeans in Kabul often dropped children off there for the day, he noted. Few organizations employing expatriates in Afghanistan allow them to bring children due to the risk.
The residents the Roots of Peace house included two Americans and an Australian, a Malaysian and a South African, who was the group’s security adviser. The group runs agricultural and demining programs in Afghanistan, as well as in Israel, Croatia and Vietnam.