Michael Kimberley, Graeme Hosken and Katharine Child
AT LEAST two of the pilots killed in yesterday’s deadly suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, have strong ties to the Eastern Cape.
One of the pilots lived in Port Elizabeth before his death, while the second is a former pupil of Kingswood College in Grahamstown.
It is believed the mother of a third victim also lives in Port Elizabeth.
Eight of the 12 people killed in the blast were South Africans.
While details of the attack are sketchy, it is believed the eight, two of whom were due to get married next year, were travelling along the city’s main road when they stopped for a regular fuel stop close to Kabul International Airport at about 4am.
It was a stop the killer – a 20-year-old woman whose terror group was enraged by the recent US anti-Islamic movie, Innocence of Muslims – had been preparing for.
The movie portrays Prophet Mohammed as a womaniser, child beater and a homosexual.
The bomb, which the extensive destruction suggests was extremely powerful, is thought to have been hidden under her clothes.
It is believed the woman may have got close to the men, who included several other foreign nationals, by pretending to go into labour and seeking their help.
The blast completely destroyed the minibus which they were travelling in, ripping their bodies from the vehicle as it and several others burst into flames.
The eight South Africans, who included pilots, engineers and support staff, were working for aircraft charterers BalmOral Central Contracts and the aviation subcontracting firm, CemAir.
CemAir leases aircraft to BalmOral which has logistical chartering contracts with the Allied forces and the Afghanistan government.
This is the highest number of foreigners killed in the city since April last year when an Afghan air force pilot gunned down eight US soldiers.
The 31-year-old Port Elizabeth pilot trained and taught at the Progress Flight School in the Bay.
His tour included eight weeks in Afghanistan and four weeks at home.
Although the man’s name is known to The Herald, it was unclear last night if his next-of-kin had been notified.
A friend of the pilot, Angela English, said yesterday he was a hero.
“He was my role model and mentor. Everyone is really upset by this. He leaves behind a legacy,” she said.
The second victim, Fraser Angus Carey, matriculated from Kingswood College 14 years ago.
He was engaged to be married.
Messages flooded Carey’s Facebook page yesterday.
“RIP chine, you will never be forgotten!! The way you took life in your stride and always put a smile on our faces,” read one.
“Frankie my boy! Your shenanigans will never be forgotten neither your eternal thirst! Clear skies all the way my boy!” read another.
Carey’s former Johannesburg high school, King Edward VII, tweeted condolences to his family.
An eyewitness told the BBC the van refuelled at the same place every day.
Afghanistan intelligence services believe the attacker had information about the victims and that it was a targeted killing.
South Africa’s International Relations spokesman, Nelson Kgwete, said late last night they were still trying to contact family members.
“It is a difficult process and we need to make sure about the names. Some of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.”
An Eastern Cape pilot, who asked not to be named, said most of the South Africans working in Kabul had resigned en masse after the explosion.
“Obviously, everyone is scared right now. There is a lot of chatter about the pilots there wanting to come home now,” he said.
The pilot said the drive to the airport was always the most strenuous part of his Kabul trips. “Driving to the airport you always heard gunshots and bomb blasts.”
The bombing brings the death tally to 30 people killed in a violent backlash over the YouTube trailer for the Innocence of Muslims, believed to have been produced by a small group of extremist Christians.
Also killed in yesterday’s blast was aircraft maintenance engineer Johan Bouchaud.
His uncle, Mark van Buuren, said the family were devastated. “None of us can believe it. It does not make any sense. There are no words to describe our pain.”
Van Buuren said Bouchaud was due to return to South Africa next week from one of several tours he had made to the war-torn country.
BalmOral chief executive Sej Dunning said Afghanistan had “burst into chaos” following the anti-Islamic video, making it difficult to travel from one side of Kabul to the other.
He said identifying the bodies was extremely difficult.
Many of the South African families of pilots and support staff who work in Afghanistan were waiting in anguish yesterday, trying to get information on their loved ones.
President Jacob Zuma said: “I am deeply saddened by the deaths of the South Africans, as well as the other lives that were lost during this tragic incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased.”