Mystery surrounds Kabul attack

It remains unclear why a group of Russians and South Africans were targeted by a suicide bomber in Kabul.

A man looks at the carnage outside a petrol station after a suicide attack in Kabul on September 18, 2012. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG/KABUL - As families of the eight South Africans who were killed in Afghanistan anxiously await confirmation of the deaths, there is still confusion over why this particular group was targeted.

Afghan militants claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide bomb attack on a minivan carrying foreign workers that killed 12 people saying it was retaliation for a film mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

A short film made with private funds in the United States (US) and posted on the Internet has ignited days of demonstrations in the Arab world, Africa, Asia and in some Western countries.

In a torrent of violence blamed on the film last week, the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi and US and other foreign embassies were stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims. At least nine other people were killed.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew up a minivan near the airport in the Afghan capital and a spokesman for the Hezb-e-Islami insurgent group claimed responsibility.

"A woman wearing a suicide vest blew herself up in response to the anti-Islam video," said militant spokesman Zubair Sediqqi. Police said the woman may have been driving a Toyota Corolla car rigged with explosives, which she triggered.

But the claim will raise fears that anger over the film will feed into deteriorating security as the US and other Western countries try to protect their forces from a rash of so-called insider attacks by Afghan colleagues.

It's believed the foreigners may have been mistaken for Americans.

Eyewitness News understands that the company which employed the eight South Africans, ACS Balmoral, was often contracted by the American embassy to transport American diplomats.

Whether that was the reason the bus was targeted remains unknown, but the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation says they must first complete their investigations before speculating.

Eyewitness News has also been informed the South Africans had been on their way to work when the suicide bomber detonated the blast.

Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Kabul the previous day, burning cars and hurling rocks at security forces in the worst outbreak of violence since February rioting over the inadvertent burning of Qurans by US soldiers.

The protesters in Kabul and several other Asian cities have vented their fury over the film at the US, blaming it for what they see as an attack on Islam.

The outcry saddles US President Barack Obama with an unexpected foreign policy headache as he campaigns for re-election in November, even though his administration has condemned the film as reprehensible and disgusting.

In response to the violence in Benghazi and elsewhere last week, the US has sent ships, extra troops and special forces to protect US interests and citizens in the Middle East, while a number of its embassies have evacuated staff and are on high alert for trouble.

Despite Obama's efforts early in his tenure to improve relations with the Arab and Muslim world, the violence adds to a host of problems including the continued US military involvement in Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear programme, the Syrian civil war and the fall-out from the Arab Spring revolts.

PROTESTS, BANS

The renewed protests on Monday dashed any hopes that the furor over the film might fade despite an appeal over the weekend from the senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest shrines, for calm.

Afghan police said among the 12 dead in the Kabul bomb attack were Russians and South Africans, mostly working for a foreign air charter company named ACS Ltd.

It followed a bloody weekend during which six members of Afghanistan's NATO-led alliance, including four Americans, were killed in suspected insider attacks carried out by Afghans turning on their allies.

Protesters also took to the streets in Pakistan and Indonesia on Monday and thousands also marched in Beirut, where a Hezbollah leader accused US spy agencies of being behind events that have unleashed a wave of anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim and Arab world.

Authorities in Bangladesh have blocked the YouTube website indefinitely to stop people seeing the video. Pakistan and Afghanistan have also blocked the site.

Iran has condemned the film as offensive and vowed to pursue those responsible for making it. Iranian officials have demanded the United States apologise to Muslims, saying the film is only the latest in a series of Western insults aimed at Islam's holy figures.

The identity of those directly responsible for the film remains unclear. Clips posted online since July have been attributed to a man named Sam Bacile, which two people connected with the film have said was probably an alias.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian widely linked to the film in media reports, was questioned in California on Saturday by US authorities investigating possible violations of his probation for a bank fraud conviction.