Slain AFP reporter and family mourned in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan – Hundreds of mourners turned out in pouring rain Sunday, March 23, to lay to rest Sardar Ahmad, AFP's senior reporter in Afghanistan, together with his wife and two of their children who were among the victims of a Taliban attack on a Kabul hotel.

After the funeral procession made its way through the capital, they were buried side by side at a cemetery on the outskirts of Kabul, as those who came to pay their respects wept under umbrellas.

Four teenage gunmen with concealed pistols carried out a raid on the luxury Serena hotel on Thursday, just weeks before Afghanistan votes for a successor to President Hamid Karzai in a poll the Taliban have vowed to disrupt.

Ahmad, 40, his wife Homaira, six-year-old daughter Nilofar and five-year-old son Omar were among nine civilians to lose their lives in the assault.

The couple's youngest son, two-year-old Abozar, survived with bullet wounds to the head, chest and leg and remains in intensive care.

The coffins were carried from a mortuary to the family home for prayers Sunday morning, where Ahmad's brothers broke down in tears and female family members wailed in distress.

The funeral procession made its way through the capital amid tight security, with authorities cordoning off roads to ensure safe passage.

Large portraits decorated in flowers accompanied the coffins, carried by Afghan soldiers in dress uniform on their journey. Afghan national flags covered the two adult coffins, while the children's were draped in green.

The caskets were later taken to the Eid Gah mosque for further prayers and then on to a graveyard on the outskirts of the city, where former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and female MP Shukria Barakzai paid their tributes, along with Ahmad's relatives.

Afghan patriot

Shah Mohammad, his elder brother, spoke of a man who loved his country deeply and was pained by its troubles.

"Sardar Ahmad was an Afghan patriot. He was honest, loyal and committed to his work," he said.

"Sardar wanted all the people of Afghanistan to live in peace. When he saw misery he was stressed and disappointed. He was kind and loved his people."

Emmanuel Duparcq, AFP's bureau chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, added: "Today there is no Taliban and no politics. There is just a profound sadness."

Ahmad joined AFP in 2003 and became the international news agency's senior reporter in Kabul. He covered all aspects of life, war and politics, developing a reputation as a versatile reporter with an eye for unexpected stories.

His passing was commemorated by top politicians across the world, including President Karzai who described it as "heartbreaking and sorrowful".

French President Francois Hollande said Ahmad had been cut down in an "odious attack" and expressed his "emotion and solidarity" with Ahmad's family and friends, in a letter to AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog.

Ben Sheppard, AFP's Kabul bureau chief, described a reporter who was "clever, informed, stylish and bubbling with boyish enthusiasm" as well as devoted to his children.

Surging violence

The Serena attack was claimed by the Taliban, who have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 poll which will decide a successor to Karzai.

One of the civilians killed was a former Paraguayan diplomat who was in Afghanistan as an election observer.

Canada's foreign ministry said two Canadians were among the victims, while the Afghan foreign ministry said the dead also included two Bangladeshis.

Afghan authorities have struggled to understand how the four Taliban gunmen managed to penetrate the high-security Serena, prompting some to ask whether they had an accomplice on the inside -- or whether it was simply a failure of the hotel security.

Sediq Seddiqi, spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, told AFP Saturday there had been no immediate breakthrough in the probe.

The attack was the latest violence ahead of what will be the country's first-ever democratic transfer of power.

It was also the third serious attack in Kabul this year targeting foreigners or places where foreigners gather.

The surge in this type of violence will raise fears that independent poll monitors will be unable to work effectively, threatening the credibility of the vote.

A disputed result would put the election winner in a weak position as Afghan security forces take on the Taliban without NATO's 53,000 combat troops behind them.

US-led NATO forces are withdrawing after 13 years fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, which erupted when the Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. –