More Details on Attack Against UN Afghanistan Mission Staff Emerge

Staffan de Mistura (right), special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan and head of the U.N. mission in that country helps lift the casket of one of the seven U.N. staff members killed in Afghanistan during an attack on the global body's operation center. Photo by: Eric Kanalstein

Civilian demonstrators played a bigger role than initially reported in last Friday’s (April 1) attack on the U.N. mission office in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal says, citing unreleased videos, accounts of U.N. officials and interviews with the protesters.

Three U.N. staff members - one Norwegian, one Swedish and another Romanian - and four Nepalese guards were among the 12 people killed in the attack, as Devex reported. The three U.N. staff members were identified as Siri Skare, Joakim Dungel and Filaret Motco.

>> UN Staff Killed in Attack on Afghanistan Office

Initial media reports and accounts by U.N. officials said the demonstration, which was prompted by the burning of the Quran by a church group in the U.S. state of Florida, was intended to be peaceful but turned violent when infiltrated by insurgents.

The demonstrators came from a gathering in Mazar-e-Sharif’s Blue Mosque, where speakers denounced the burning of the Quran by the Dove World Outreach Center, the Wall Street Journal says. The religious group from Florida is led by Terry Jones, who gained international attention last year when he announced plans to burn copies of the Quran in commemoration of the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil in 2001.

The Wall Street Journal says the local police and U.N. guards were outnumbered and caught by surprise when demonstrators barged into the U.N. mission compound. Amid the confusion, some of the rioters were able to wrestle weapons off some of the guards and policemen. They used the weapons to shoot the guards and the U.N. staff members, who, at that time, were hiding in a safe room inside the compound, the news agency says, citing videos of last Friday’s protests.

The staff members apparently were able to call nearby German and Swedish military bases for support before the room they were hiding in was raided. But the events unfolded quickly and the rapid response unit reached the compound only after the demonstrators have dispersed, the Wall Street Journal says.

Pavel Ershov, a Russian diplomat who is fluent in Dari, was spared from being shot after claiming to be Muslim. At least three other U.N. workers hiding in a safe room in another building within the compound also survived the attack.

Friday’s protests have prompted more demonstrations across Afghanistan, resulting in at least nine more deaths and 81 injuries over the weekend.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.

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