KABUL, Afghanistan -- A promising young U.S. Foreign Service officer, three American soldiers and a civilian government contractor who were killed Saturday in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan probably wouldnt have been close to the blast if they hadnt gotten lost while walking to the school where they were to participate in a book-donation ceremony, according to an Afghan television reporter who was with them and was wounded in the attack.
Ahmad Zia Abed, a reporter for Shamshad TV, said he and a videographer from his station were among about a dozen people, including the officer, Anne Smedinghoff, 25, whom American soldiers were escorting on the 200-yard walk from the local headquarters of the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team to what they thought was the school. A man at the gate said they had the wrong place, though, that this was the provincial agriculture institute.
The group retraced its steps to the American base to figure out what to do next, Abed said. The entrance to the base is just a few feet from the street, he said, and just as they reached it, walking more or less in single file, something slammed into his back and he staggered forward. Disoriented, he saw a car wheel roll past him.
"At first I thought that a car had left the road and struck me," he said. "But then I turned around and saw it had been a bomb."
Abeds account of the bombing, the most detailed to surface since the explosion, raises new questions about the circumstances that led to the deadliest combat incident in Afghanistan for Americans this year and contradicts what relatives of the victims have said they were told that Smedinghoff and her military escorts had been in an armored vehicle when it was rammed by a suicide vehicle. Smedinghoff was the first American diplomat to die in Afghanistan during more than 11 years of warfare here.
The FBI has opened an investigation into the attack, said a U.S. government official who declined to be identified because of that investigation. He confirmed Wednesday night that the party had been on foot, and said earlier reports that they were in a vehicle convoy were inaccurate.
Being on foot would have made the group particularly vulnerable to the effects of the explosion. Abed was interviewed Wednesday at his home in Kabul, where was recovering from surgery to remove chunks of the suicide vehicle from his left hand and the back of his right knee.
Improvised bombs sometimes arent strong enough to pierce an armored vehicle. Or theyre designed or built so poorly or triggered in such a way that they dont result in serious casualties. When they explode, though, anyone on foot nearby is most at risk. That was true in this case.
Local officials said the bomber was parked outside a nearby hospital, waiting for the provincial governor to drive by on his way to the school. As the governor's convoy passed, the bomb went off. While some in the governors convoy were wounded, none was killed. The only Afghan to die in the blast was a doctor, also on foot, who was outside the hospital.
Abed said he was near the front of the group, closer to the U.S. base and farther from the road than most in the group were. That saved his life. Those behind him took the worst of the blast. Among them was Smedinghoff.
Smedinghoffs father told journalists in the United States that hed been told she was in a vehicle and the bomber either rammed it or detonated his explosives nearby. But Abed said shed been his media escort all the way from Kabul to Qalat, the capital of Zabul province, and that he was certain she was on foot.