South African pastor killed in Afghanistan suicide bombing

A church in Pretoria is reeling after their part-time pastor, Werner Groenewald, and his two teenage children were killed in a suicide bombing by the Taliban in Afghanistan on Saturday.

“We are in shock,” said Willem Badenhorst, pastor for the Moreleta Park Dutch Reformed Church in Pretoria East. “It is a very, very difficult time for us and the congregation.”

Groenwald, 46, was based in the Afghan capital Kabul for several years, according to Badenhorst. He lived in the country with his wife and two children, a 17-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter who were both killed in the attack, which lasted for several hours.

One Afghanistan local was also killed, according to local police, who did not release the person’s name.

Groenwald’s wife Hannelie Groenewald appears to be unharmed but the compound they lived in, where the attack took place, is thought to have been destroyed during the bombing, said Badenhorst, meaning Groenewald’s wife had lost her documents and may not be able to travel home to South Africa immediately.

An online bio for Groenewald on funding website GivenGain notes that he was born in Johannesburg on 31 July 1968 and grew up as the last of three boys in the family. He married Hannelie in 1990, became a pastor in 1997 at the Moreleta Park Dutch Reformed Church in Pretoria and “received a calling for cross-cultural work in Afghanistan in April 2002”.

Groenwald worked for an American-based aid organisation called Partnership in Academics & Development (PAD), which helps educate poor and orphaned children in various countries in the middle east and central Asia.

Taliban responsible
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, stating that the compound was that of a “secret Christian missionary group”.

However there is no mention of religious affiliations on PAD’s website, which describes its goal as “empowering and developing communities through educational efforts.” One example of their projects is the Seeds of Hope school, which caters to about 200 children whose parents cannot afford to send their children to public schools.

Afghan police confirmed on Saturday that several armed gunmen had attacked a compound that housed employees from an NGO.

The police did not release the name of the NGO but PAD released a statement on its website on Sunday describing the attack on its compound, which seems to include its offices and accommodation for staff.

“The attack which occurred on November 29, 2014 by multiple gunmen included one who detonated a personal explosive device killing three and injuring other staff members,” read the statement.

Afghan officials said three gunmen were involved in the attack. Authorities managed to kill two of the attackers in a battle that raged for several hours, but the third suicide attacker was able to detonate the explosive he had strapped to his body, according to news reports in the country.

The attack comes as the US-led Nato presence in Afghanistan is set to withdraw ahead of the deadline set for the end of 2014. The country’s fragile new government will take responsibility for security in the country. In response there has been an uptick in attacks the past few weeks by the Taliban, who ruled the once prosperous country from 1996 to 2001.

Insurgents have targeted foreign compounds, embassy vehicles, US troops and a female member of parliament in recent weeks, according to reports. There have been a dozen attacks in just two weeks in the troubled country.

Saturday’s attack which killed Groenewald appeared to have been the final straw for Kabul’s police chief General Zahir Zahir, who resigned shortly on Sunday shortly after the attack, telling the Interior Ministry he “no longer wanted to continue his job”, according to a ministry spokesperson.

Zahir was himself the target of an attempted suicide attack this month, according to one report.

On November 9 a militant snuck into Kabul police headquarters and blew himself up just outside of Zahir’s third-floor office.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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