Australian injured in Afghanistan shooting in stable condition in hospital – ABC News

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Joe McDowell, an Australian man who was injured in a deadly shooting in central Afghanistan, is now in a stable condition in hospital.

Six people, including three foreigners, were killed and at least five others were injured when gunmen open fired in a market in the city of Bamyan, around 180 kilometres west of capital Kabul, on Friday evening, local time.

Humanitarian aid organisation Emergency said five people wounded in the attack were taken to its surgical centre for war victims in Kabul in the early hours of Saturday.

It confirmed an Australian was among the group taken to the hospital, as well as nationals from Spain, Lithuania, Norway, and Afghanistan.

“The wounded people arrived at our hospital at 3am this [Saturday] morning , about 10 hours after the incident took place,” the NGO’s country director Dejan Panic said in a statement.

“The Afghan national was the most critically injured, but all patients are now stable.”

It said it continues to treat patients injured in attacks around the country despite the security situation improving after the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

Jibra’il Omar, an Australian academic previously known as Timothy Weeks, posted a photo with Mr McDowell on social media platform X.

“Today I visited my Australian brother, Joe McDowell, who is well and is now in Kabul,” he wrote in Persian, adding that Mr McDowell thanked Afghanistan for its support.

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Mr Omar converted to Islam and changed his name while being held hostage by the Taliban for three years before being released in a prisoner swap in 2019.

He returned to Afghanistan in 2022, a year after the Taliban returned to power, and says he wants to help rebuild the country.

Besmillah Taban, the former general director of Afghanistan’s police criminal investigation unit in the Interior Ministry, posted a cropped in version of the same photo, saying Mr McDowell’s condition was “improving day by day”.

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The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) on Saturday said it was providing consular assistance to an Australian, but did not provide further information “owing to our privacy obligations”.

Australia does not have any diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and has no formal relationship with the Taliban government.

It established an interim mission following the closure of the Australian Embassy in 2021 and operates out of Doha.

The government says it engages with the Taliban “in multilateral and group meetings to reinforce our expectations” but that this “engagement does not confer legitimacy on the Taliban”.

Foreigners targeted

The bodies of three Spanish tourists and three Afghans who were killed were transported to Kabul, the Taliban government said.

Anne-France Brill was one of the dozen foreign travellers on an organised tour who escaped unhurt.

She described the terrifying seconds when a gunman on foot approached the group’s vehicles and opened fire.

“There was blood everywhere,” she told AFP from Dubai, where she landed on Saturday after being evacuated from Kabul.

“One thing is certain,” she said, the assailant “was there for the foreigners”.

The attack is reportedly the first deadly assault on foreign tourists in Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

They were evacuated from Bamyan by road as bad weather made an airlift impossible, diplomatic sources said.

One of the wounded, a Spanish woman, had been seriously injured and underwent surgery in Kabul, the Spanish foreign ministry said.

People standing around with cars on the side of a road and small plastic chairs on the ground

The attack happened in the city of Bamyan in Afghanistan.(Supplied: Besmillah Taban/X)

Spain’s government on Friday announced that three of the dead were Spanish tourists.

The dead also included three Afghans — two civilians and a Taliban member, the Taliban interior ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani said.

Local officials said the civilians were working with the tour group, while the Taliban security official had returned fire when the shooting broke out.

‘Shocked and appalled’

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on social media platform X that he was “overwhelmed” by the news of the murder of Spanish tourists.

The bodies of the dead would likely be brought back to Spain on Sunday, according to Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares, who spoke on Spanish public television TVE.

Spanish diplomats were headed to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Qatar, where the Spanish ambassador to the country is currently based, to facilitate the repatriation of the dead and transfer of the wounded, the foreign ministry said.

The Spanish embassy was evacuated in 2021, along with other Western missions, after the Taliban took control of Kabul again.

Spanish authorities have also been coordinating with a European Union delegation in the capital.

The Taliban’s interior ministry spokesman Qani said seven suspects had been arrested, “of which one is wounded”.

“The investigation is still going on and the Islamic Emirate is seriously looking into the matter,” he added.

There has not yet been a claim of responsibility.

The EU condemned the attack “in the strongest terms”.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, said it was “deeply shocked and appalled by the deadly terrorist attack” in Bamyan, adding it had provided assistance after the incident.

Fledgling tourism sector

The Taliban government has yet to be officially recognised by any foreign government.

It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.

Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of kidnap and attack risks.

Alongside security concerns, the country has limited road infrastructure and a dilapidated health service.

Multiple foreign tourism companies offer package tours to Afghanistan, often including visits to highlights in cities such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamyan.

Bamyan is Afghanistan’s top tourist destination, once home to the giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001 during their previous rule.

The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has fallen dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power, and deadly attacks on foreigners are rare.

However, a number of armed groups, including the Islamic State group, remain a threat.

The jihadist group has waged a campaign of attacks on foreign interests in a bid to weaken the Taliban government, targeting the Pakistani and Russian embassies as well as Chinese businessmen.

ABC/AFP

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