As Fighting Season Begins, a Gruesome Terrorist Attack Shakes Afghanistan

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Hoshang Hashimi / AP

An Afghan soldier stands guard in the destroyed courthouse in Farah, in western Afghanistan, on April 4, 2013

Among the dead was Fraidoon, a 28-year-old Islamic-law graduate of Herat University. He had been serving as a clerk in the court for the past three years. “I was in the hospital in the morning visiting a sick relative when I heard about the attack at the court,” said Haji Said Ahmad Jan, Fraidoon’s father. He tried to call Fraidoon’s number, but the call wouldn’t go through. So he waited at the hospital until 4:30 p.m., inspecting every dead and injured person that was brought in, hoping his son would be among the injured. The register at the provincial hospital shows that 124 wounded people and 39 dead were brought in — others were taken to private hospitals or to their homes. To make room for the wounded, this small hospital had to clear the maternity ward, sending pregnant women home.

Commando forces eventually flew in from neighboring Herat province and helped end the resistance at around 4:30 p.m. — targeting the rooms where the insurgents were holed up with heavy artillery. After the fight was over, Ahmad Jan got a call that his son’s body was found in the courthouse. Fraidoon had a bullet in the head, one in the neck and one in his left torso. He leaves behind two young sons and a young daughter.

The attack has, once again, raised questions about the capabilities of Afghan security forces as they begin to take charge of security in most of the country while foreign forces continue their staggered withdrawal. Residents as well as provincial council members say not enough measures were in place to protect the city. A provincial council member said vehicles are rarely searched before they drive into major government buildings.

President Hamid Karzai visited the province to meet family members and offer his condolences. As is the tendency in Kabul, Karzai and his officials have blamed foreign hands — implicating both Iran, which shares a border with Farah, and Pakistan, long thought to be colluding with the Taliban. A senior army official in the province told TIME that he had a “strong guess” the attack was backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. But he could provide no reason why they would be behind the assault nor evidence other than that the uniforms the Taliban assailants were wearing looked more like those issued to the Iranian guards that those of Afghans.

Farah’s governor also suspects foreign involvement. “I am not saying it could be foreign hands involved — I am saying it must be,” Khpalwak said. “We also have good intelligence on the capacity of the local Taliban — this was beyond them,” Khpalwak said. His intelligence shows that leadership of local Taliban was unaware of the attack.

(MORE: Red Cross: Security Deteriorating in Afghanistan)

But the officials’ answers have done little to quell local anger. “Security cannot be brought with empty words — it comes with action,” said Ahmad Jan, who lost his son. “For God’s sake, don’t give them room to kill our youth again,” he pleaded the government.

Such attacks, in which a large number of civilians were affected, also further intensify anger toward the Taliban and complicate Karzai’s outreach to the militants in hopes of striking a peace deal — a process that has floundered despite the President’s desperate attempts. While Karzai has gone out of his way to release hundreds of Taliban prisoners — often without due process, critics say — the Taliban have responded with attacking the court.

“Those who shed the blood of our innocent are not our brothers,” said activist Barry Salaam, referring to President Karzai usually addressing Taliban as “angry brothers.” A delegation of Salaam’s group, called Afghanistan 1400, a diverse political movement working toward a long-term vision for the country, was in Farah to speak to families and donate blood to the wounded. They brought a message of defiance — that, while some are shedding blood, others are ready to donate. The 1400 in the group’s name is a reference to the turn of the Afghan millennia, eight years from now. “It’s time we value the Afghan lives being lost every day and stop compromising with those who are taking the lives,” Salaam said.

MORE: U.S. General: Taliban Likely to Be Long-Term Threat 

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