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Foreign workers killed in suicide attack on minibus near Kabul airport

According to reports citing local officials in Afghanistan, a female suicide bomber attacked a minibus near Kabul, killing at least nine people in what may be the deadliest act of retribution over an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

 

Updated at 9:25 a.m. ET: A suicide bomber attacked a minibus near Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least nine people including eight foreign civilians working for an international aviation company, according to reports citing local officials.

Afghan militants claimed responsibility, saying the attack was carried out by a young female in retaliation for a film mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

The South African International Affairs Ministry said that eight of the victims were South African citizens.


Spokesman Nelson Kgwete told The Associated Press that the victims are believed to have been employed by a South African aviation company based at Rand Airport in Johannesburg. 

Earlier, Reuters reported that Russians were also among the foreign workers killed. Unidentified police sources put the total death toll higher than the local officials, saying 12 had died.

The attack underscored growing anger in Afghanistan over the film, which has enraged much of the Muslim world and led to the killing last week of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

US-Afghan military operations suspended after attacks

Thousands of protesters clashed with police in the Afghan capital on Monday, burning cars and hurling rocks at security forces in the worst outbreak of demonstration-related violence since rioting in February over the inadvertent burning of Qurans by U.S. soldiers.

The death toll from the suicide attack was the highest on foreigners in the city since April 2011 when an Afghan air force pilot gunned down eight U.S. military flight instructors and an American civilian adviser after an argument at Kabul International Airport.

Crowds of angry protesters showed up in Kabul, Afghanistan and Jakarta, Indonesia. The violent uprising followed a deadly weekend marking the deaths of eight International Security Assistance Force members. NBC's Atia Abawi reports.

Haroon Zarghoon, a spokesman for Hizb-i-Islami -- a radical militant group that shares some of the Taliban's anti-foreigner, anti-government aims -- told the Associated Press that the attack was carried out by a 22-year-old woman named Fatima. However, the AP noted that suicide bombings carried out by women are extremely rare in Afghanistan — and few if any women drive cars. 

Another spokesman for the group, Zubair Sediqqi, told Reuters: "A woman wearing a suicide vest blew herself up in response to the anti-Islam video."

Gen. Abdul Zahir, director of the local Criminal Investigation Department, told NBC News there was no way of confirming yet if the bomber was a male or female.

Reuters cited unidentified police sources saying the bomber was a woman, possibly driving a Toyota Corolla car rigged with explosives, which she triggered.

 

Local photojournalist Massoud Hossaini who posted a picture of the blast scene on Twitter, said all the foreign bodies he saw were "without any uniform."

Protesters in Kabul and several other Asian cities have vented their fury over the film at the United States, blaming it for what they see as an attack on Islam. The outcry saddles President Barack Obama with an unexpected foreign policy headache as he campaigns for re-election in November. His administration has condemned the film as reprehensible and disgusting.

In response to the violence in Benghazi, Libya, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, and elsewhere lastweek, the United States has sent ships, extra troops and specialforces to protect U.S. interests and citizens in the Middle East, while a number of its embassies have evacuated staff and are on high alert for trouble.

The identity of those directly responsible for the film remains unclear.

Clips posted online since July have been attributed to a man named Sam Bacile, which two people connected with the film have said was probably an alias.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian widely linked to the film in media reports, was questioned in California on Saturday by U.S. authorities investigating possible violations of his probation for a bank fraud conviction.

NBC News producer Akbar Shinwari in Kabul, Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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