Afghanistan’s Kam Air struggles to stay afloat after deadly Kabul attack

An Afghan security force personnel keeps watch close to the entrance gate of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen in Kabul, Afghanistan. January 21, 2018.(REUTERS)
Updated 01 February 2018
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Afghanistan’s Kam Air struggles to stay afloat after deadly Kabul attack

KABUL: Capt. Samad Osman Samadi, director general and pilot of Afghanistan’s Kam Air, could clearly hear on the phone the repeated firing and explosions punctuated by the yelling of his colleagues who begged him for help when the assailants stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel on Jan. 20.
He was up all night at a home nearby, talking by phone either with police outside the hotel or 35 of Kam Air’s foreign staff members who were caught up among scores of others in the attack.
Samadi thought the failure of any of the 35 men and women to answer the group’s exchange of message created on Viber meant they must have been killed in the assault, which clearly was targeting foreigners.
“I was in touch with them to find out where they were, to give them confidence and morale and give the information of their room numbers to the police to see if they could be rescued,” he told Arab News.
The next day, after more than 16 hours of gunbattle, nine staff members of Kam Air — seven Ukrainians and two Venezuelans — were among the 14 foreigners who lost their lives in addition to more than 30 Afghans.
One Kam Air employee was shot while dining. Another female employee hid on her room’s balcony. She could not bear the freezing cold weather in the open and returned to her room where she died in an exchange of gunfire.
The attack was the deadliest targeting foreigners in Afghanistan since Taliban’s ousting in 2001.
Exhausted and in shock, the first thing that 26 of Kam Air’s foreign staff who survived the attack did was leave the country.
The attack and the departure of the airline’s foreign staff left five of the company’s nine planes grounded and led to the cancelation of many of its local international flights.
Samadi, who is British of Afghan descent, recalls the moment of his encounter with the survivors.
“Everybody was in shock. They were not able to work and do not know when they will be OK and will come back,” he said.
Samadi, who has been flying for 26 years, knew many of the victims well and was in regular contact with them.
The incident haunts him. “It is not easy to forget. It is really devastating.”
In a country where the roads are usually not safe because of militants’ attacks and banditry, flying is the safest and quickest option.
The company, which covers 90 percent of local flights and was usually chartered by the country’s president and other Afghan leaders for domestic and foreign flights, is struggling with a large number of flight cancelations.
Only two other expatriate staff of the airline, who were out of the country at the time of the attack, have returned to help bring the operation of the carrier back to normal because there is a shortage of professional aviation staff in Afghanistan, he said.
“No doubt Kam Air was affected adversely. We canceled many flights because of shortages of pilots, engineers and cabin crew and of course it will take time to come back to normalcy,” he said.
Foreign and local flights have suffered deadly accidents, and sometimes even direct attacks in the past in Afghanistan, but the assault on the hotel was the most devastating event for the aviation business in the country’s history.
With Afghanistan’s future uncertain after decades of conflict and after the recent terror attack, Samadi’s family in England have urged him to leave Afghanistan, but he has not yet made up his mind.
“We are used to this war and abnormal occurrences,” he said.


Iranian TV anchor held as witness is released from US jail

Updated 30 min 50 sec ago
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Iranian TV anchor held as witness is released from US jail

  • Marzieh Hashemi was detained by federal agents last week in St. Louis and transported to Washington
  • Her detention comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal

WASHINGTON: A prominent American-born anchorwoman on Iranian state television who was jailed in the US as a material witness has been released from jail, activists and a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Marzieh Hashemi, 59, was released from jail in Washington on Wednesday evening after being detained for more than 10 days, according to Abed Ayoub, an attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Hashemi, who works for the Press TV network’s English-language service, was detained by federal agents Jan. 13 in St. Louis, Missouri, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area, her son said. She was then transported to Washington and had remained behind bars since then.
Hashemi appeared at least twice before a US District judge in Washington, and court papers said she would be released immediately after her testimony before a grand jury. Court documents did not include details on the criminal case in which she was named a witness.
Federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be detained if the government can prove that their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and that they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed.
A person familiar with the matter said Hashemi had fulfilled her obligation as a material witness and was released. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Hashemi is a US citizen and was born Melanie Franklin. She lives in Tehran and comes back to the United States about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work in the US, her son said.
Asked whether his mother had been involved in any criminal activity or knew anyone who might be implicated in a crime, Hossein Hashemi said, “We don’t have any information along those lines.”
He didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Wednesday.
Marzieh Hashemi’s detention comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal. Iran also faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual citizens and other people with Western ties.
Earlier Wednesday, dozens of activists protested outside the federal courthouse in Washington, where Hashemi was scheduled to appear before the grand jury. They held signs and chanted, “Free, free, Marzieh!” and “Shame, shame, USA!“