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In Kabul, Condemnation for the London Attacks

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We're going to hear reaction now to the London bombings from a continent away. Afghanistan has a long history with the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Al-Qaeda, or a group linked to it, leads the list of suspects for yesterday's attacks. So how do Afghans view them? NPR's Philip Reeves is in Kabul and he went to find out.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Waheed Majda(ph) has seen extremism at close quarters. He was a Foreign Ministry official when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. When he heard of the London bombings, he was in no doubt of their significance.

Mr. WAHEED MAJDA (Former Foreign Ministry Official): (Through Translator) I believe that the target of attacks like this is to boost the morale of those who have got an alliance or who share the same ideology issue with al-Qaeda. This would give them a thought that al-Qaeda is willing conduct an organized, well-coordinated attack in an important country like Britain.

REEVES: In these terms, says Waheed Majda, the attacks were a major success for al-Qaeda. But he takes no pleasure in this. These days he recognizes the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai. He also has relatives in London. He's been worrying about them, and like many Afghans, he's angered by attacks on civilians.

Mr. MAJDA: (Through Translator) It made me remember the dark days of Kabul City, of the civil war.

REEVES: Afghanistan has seen a surge of attacks against government and US forces by al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies in the last three months. Anti-Western sentiment is thought generally to be increasing. Yet in the capital Kabul yesterday, it was hard to find anyone who saw the London bombings as justifiable.

In the first Kabul Chess Club, several old men were sipping green tea as they huddled round tables doing battle. When talk turned to the London bombings, the mood became bleak. Fahiz Mohammad Fahizi(ph), a civil servant.

Mr. FAHIZ MOHAMMAD FAHIZI (Civil Servant): (Through Translator) There will be a small minority in Afghanistan which would support these types of attacks with dark mentalities and primitive ideas. And the majority of people condemn these types of attack because that's a coward type of attack.

REEVES: But this is Kabul. Unlike much of Afghanistan, the city's been booming since the ousting of the Taliban. Al-Qaeda, chief suspects in the London attacks, has little of the support here that it receives in Afghanistan's rural south and southeast. Yet Paul Fishstein from the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent think tank, questions whether al-Qaeda has ever enjoyed the backing of the majority of Afghans, even in the Taliban years.

Mr. PAUL FISHSTEIN (Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit): Let's not forget they were guests, and, in fact, unwelcome guests, by the majority of the Afghan population.

REEVES: Fishstein says most Afghans are concerned mainly with reconstructing their nation and establishing a functioning state. He believes the London bombings may be viewed as damaging to these goals.

Mr. FISHSTEIN: I suspect in the minds of many Afghans, the real concern would be the backlash in terms of the support of the international community.

REEVES: Amid the market stores of downtown Kabul yesterday, some Afghans hadn't even heard news of the bombings. Those that had condemned them, including 32-year-old Khan Muhammad(ph), but at the same time he saw them as a significant demonstration of the power and sophistication of al-Qaeda.

Mr. KHAN MUHAMMAD: (Through Translator) It's got roots in different countries of the world, in Afghanistan, North America, some other countries, and this shows that they have the capability to do what they want.

REEVES: That's a message the bombers surely intended to convey. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul.

SIEGEL: And you can read opinions from around the world about the London bombings at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.