'Great friend': AFP driver among 23 killed in Kabul suicide attack

'Great friend': AFP driver among 23 killed in Kabul suicide attack

July 23, 2018

Kabul--AFP driver Mohammad Akhtar, a 31-year-old father of four who was among 23 people killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, was a "great friend" known for his kindness and honesty, colleagues said Monday.

Sunday's attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, happened as supporters of Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum were leaving the capital's international airport after welcoming home the former warlord from exile.

Akhtar's death comes less than three months after AFP's chief photographer in Afghanistan, Shah Marai, was killed in a bomb attack.

The April 30 blast in Kabul left 25 people dead, including Marai and eight other journalists.

The health ministry on Monday warned that the death toll from the airport attack, which left at least 107 people wounded, could rise.

Akhtar -- who was related to Marai -- leaves a wife and four children, the youngest only a few months old.

He was on his way to the AFP bureau to work the night shift and was changing public transport near the airport when the suicide bomber blew himself up. The attack was aimed at Dostum, but his armoured vehicle had already whisked him away.

Akhtar was the third member of the bureau to die in a militant attack since 2014, when reporter Sardar Ahmad was killed along with his wife and two of his children in a Taliban raid on a hotel.

"Once again our bureau in Kabul has suffered a devastating blow," said Michele Leridon, AFP Global News Director.

"All our thoughts are with Akhtar's family and his AFP colleagues who continue to do their jobs with professionalism and great courage."

Colleagues described Akhtar, who worked in the Kabul bureau for 11 years, as a "great friend" who was kind, calm and honest.

"He was soft-spoken, he was patient, he was very upfront," said AFP video journalist Rateb Noori.

"He never made a fuss. He kept a lot of things inside."

One thing he did express, however, was a penchant for swear words learnt from French colleagues, which he would deploy periodically, his striking eyes screwed up in laughter.

Afghan civilians have borne the brunt of the grinding conflict that began after the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime.

Militant attacks and suicide bombs were the leading causes of civilian deaths in the first half of 2018, a recent UN report showed.

The total number of civilians killed was 1,692, the highest number for the period since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began keeping records in 2009.

Another 3,430 people were wounded, the report said. AFP