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Slain AFP reporter and family mourned in Kabul

© 2014 AFP

23 March 2014

Hundreds of well-wishers turned out in pouring rain Sunday to mourn the loss of Sardar Ahmad, AFP's senior reporter in Kabul, and his wife and two of their children who were killed in a Taliban attack.

Four teenage gunmen with concealed pistols carried out a raid on the prestigious Serena hotel on Thursday, just weeks before Afghanistan votes for a successor to President Hamid Karzai in a poll the Taliban had vowed to disrupt.

Sardar Ahmad, 40, his wife Homaira, six-year-old daughter Nilofar and five-year-old son Omar were among nine civilians to have lost their lives in the assault.

The couple's youngest son, two-year-old Abozar, survived with bullet wounds to the head, chest and leg and remains in intensive care.

The bodies of the dead were carried in coffins from a mortuary to the family home for prayers Sunday morning, where Ahmad's brothers broke down in tears and female family members wailed in distress.

Security was tight with authorities cordoning off roads to allow the funeral procession a safe passage. Mourners included family and friends, colleagues, and a number of foreign journalists and diplomats.

Large portraits decorated in flowers accompanied the coffins on their journey. Afghan national flags covered the two adult coffins, while the children's were draped in green.

The coffins were later taken to the Eid Gah mosque for further prayers and then on to a graveyard on the outskirts of the city, where the four bodies were buried side by side.

Ahmad's brothers, together with former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and female MP Shukria Barakzai paid tribute, along with AFP's Pakistan and Afghanistan bureau chief Emmanuel Duparcq and photographer Shah Marai who also gave speeches honouring their lost colleague and his family.

Ahmad joined AFP in 2003 and became the international news agency's senior reporter in Kabul. He covered all aspects of life, war and politics, developing a reputation as a versatile reporter with an eye for unexpected stories.

His passing was commemorated by top politicians across the world, including President Karzai who described it as "heartbreaking and sorrowful".

French President Francois Hollande said Ahmad had been cut down in an "odious attack" and expressed his "emotion and solidarity" with Ahmad's family and friends, in a letter to AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog.

Ben Sheppard, AFP's Kabul bureau chief, paid tribute to a reporter who was "clever, informed, stylish and bubbling with boyish enthusiasm" as well as devoted to his children.

- Surging violence -

The Serena attack was claimed by the Taliban, who have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 poll which will decide a successor to Karzai.

One of the civilians killed was a former Paraguayan diplomat who was in Afghanistan as an election observer.

Canada's foreign ministry said two Canadians were among the victims, while the Afghan foreign ministry said the dead also included two Bangladeshis.

Afghan authorities have struggled to understand how the four Taliban gunmen managed to penetrate the high-security Serena, prompting some to ask whether they had an accomplice on the inside -- or whether it was simply a failure of the hotel security.

Sediq Seddiqi, spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, told AFP Saturday there had been no immediate breakthrough in the probe.

The attack was the latest violence ahead of the April 5 election, when Afghans will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai in what will be the country's first-ever democratic transfer of power.

It was also the third serious attack in Kabul this year targeting foreigners or places where foreigners gather.

The surge in this type of violence will raise fears that independent poll monitors will be unable to work effectively, threatening the credibility of the April 5 vote.

A disputed result would put whoever wins the election in a weak position as Afghan security forces take on the Taliban without NATO's 53,000 combat troops behind them.

US-led NATO forces are withdrawing after 13 years fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, which erupted when the Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.