Sticky Bombs spread terror and mayhem in a city on the outskirts

KABUL, Afghanistan – As he has done most workdays, Mahbubullah Mohibi left home Tuesday morning in a white armored SUV with government plates on his way to his office job as deputy governor of Kabul province.

His driver was driving through the narrow streets of Kabul’s Macroyan neighborhood when the SUV was shaken by an explosion. Mohibi, 42, and his secretary were killed and two bodyguards were injured, an interior ministry spokesman said.

Someone had attached a homemade magnetic bomb to Mr Mohibi’s vehicle, an increasingly common and deadly tactic against government officials and other prominent Afghans in the capital.

The dull, crumpled echo of a magnetic bomb explosion has recently been the daily soundtrack to the busy morning ritual in Kabul. A so-called “sticky bomb” exploded somewhere in Afghanistan almost every day this fall – with dozens of such attacks in Kabul alone in the past six months, according to the New York Times.

A few hours after the attack on Mr. Mohibi, a magnetic bomb killed Abdul Rahman Atshan, the deputy chief of the provincial council of Ghor province in central Afghanistan, and seriously injured a councilman who was driving with him, a spokesman for the government said. provincial police.

And Wednesday morning, a police officer and a government intelligence officer were killed in separate blasts in Kabul caused by magnetic bombs attached to their vehicles, a police official said.

Magnetic bombs are part of a Taliban strategy to spread terror and chaos among Afghans, particularly in the capital, local security officials say. Coupled with the murder of government employees, security forces and civilian leaders by itinerant gunmen, the attacks have underscored the government’s inability to protect its own people – and fuel growing public discontent and distrust of Afghan leaders amidst their attempts to negotiate peace terms with the Taliban.

“It’s a great outcome for the Taliban – each one is like a news bomb in the media,” Mohammad Arif Rahmani, a member of the Afghan parliament’s security committee, said of the magnetic explosives. “These bombs are spreading great fears through society.”

As part of a deal signed with the United States in February that set the timeline for a definitive US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban pledged to limit mass-victim attacks, such as truck bombings, in cities. the use of magnetic bombs to demonstrate the extent of its reach in the capital, as well as the government’s vulnerability as it seeks leverage in the next round of peace talks due again in Qatar in January.

Magnetic bombs have been used in Afghanistan since the early years of the 2005 uprising, as well as in Iraq. But the accelerated pace of such attacks this year has shifted security in Kabul, forcing everyone associated with the government to rethink how and when they use their vehicles.

The chaotic traffic in Kabul favors bombers. Vehicles are often stuck in traffic jams, where attackers on motorcycles or passing pedestrians can pass and covertly attach a magnetic bomb.

The capital now feels like a besieged city, with something as prosaic as commuting to work a source of fear, and every car in the street a potential death trap.

“The situation is so unpredictable – you don’t know what will happen tomorrow when you get in your car,” said Aiman ​​Mayar, 22, whose father, an official in the Ministry of Education, was killed by a magnetic force three months ago. bomb in Kabul. .

The officer, Dr. Abdul Baqi Amin, driving a ministry vehicle that had parked in a ministry parking lot the night before, his son said. Like the loved ones of so many other bombing victims, Mr. Mayar wondered why his father was targeted – and how someone managed to attach an explosive device to his vehicle despite bodyguards and government security measures.

“I want to know how it is possible for a car with a government number plate to be blown up with a magnetic bomb and the government doesn’t even know who did it or how,” said Mr Mayar. “It’s been three months since they promised an investigation, but nothing has happened.”

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for some magnetic bomb explosions, but others are not being claimed, such as the attacks on Mr Mayar’s father and Mr Mohibi, which increases public fear that someone could be targeted at any time for reasons that never will be explained.

The brutal attacks leave a lasting impression that the militants can operate with near impunity in the government’s capital, said Atiqullah Amarkhel, a retired Afghan general who watched an uprising slowly strangle Kabul in the early 1990s until the Russian-backed government of Afghanistan collapsed.

“Kabul is an open city – these Taliban live here and make their bombs here,” said Mr Amarkhel. “After each of the magnetic bomb blasts, the government is getting more discredited.”

The magnetic bombs are usually assembled using high explosives made of plastic and powerful magnets, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. The official said insurgents are smuggling explosives into Kabul using an underground courier system known as belti.

Attackers try to attach the bombs as close to a car’s fuel tank as possible to make the vehicle go up in flames. The devices can be remotely detonated with radio signals or with a time delay fuse.

At the same time, the Taliban have stepped up widespread attacks on government forces in rural provinces and remote district centers. Afghan civilians are regularly killed in the crossfire. At least 212 civilians were killed in October, according to data from The New York Times, the deadliest month for civilians since September 2019.

Even low-ranking officials affiliated with the government have been targeted by magnetic bombs. In October, Yousaf Jan, an Afghan contractor hired to provide fuel for police vehicles, was killed by a bomb attached to his van in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan.

Gul Nawaz, the contractor’s cousin, said he had no idea who attacked Mr. Jan or why.

“I just know that no one has investigated his case and no one has helped his family,” said Mr Nawaz.

The magnetic bombings are likely to continue. The device is a brutally effective weapon – cheap, accurate, and deadly.

“It doesn’t cost much and requires few facilities,” said Mr Rahmani, Parliament’s security member. “But it has a very high impact.”

Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul and Farooq Jan Mangal from Khost.