Lebanese owner who died defending Kabul restaurant

"This is the kind of attack in Kabul that horrifies and hurts in equal measure"

Kamal Hamade made the best chocolate cake in Kabul, the best Lebanese food and, he thought, the best evacuation plan.

But the plan wasn't good enough to save him and others who died with him when the Taliban attacked his Taverna du Liban restaurant tucked away in a quiet street of one of the Afghan capital's oldest neighbourhoods.

But his safety measures did save many lives.

And Kamal is reported to have grabbed a gun from his office to take on his assailants. He was shot dead defending his beloved restaurant.

I would not have expected him to act any differently. His Taverna had come under attack before. He always told me he had his gun at the ready to help defend his patch and the people who made it the special place it was.

When some of his staff were arrested a few years ago in a local dispute, Kamal insisted on going to jail with them because he thought his presence would get them out more quickly. It worked.

Start Quote

Kabul is bleeding - and so is my heart”

End Quote Bilal Sarwary BBC News, Kabul

Every time I visited him in Kabul, he proudly produced his latest new recipes prepared by his Afghan cooks, and the Lebanese chefs he persuaded to join him in the Afghan capital.

And he often showed me the extra measures - more doors, more guns, more rules - to keep pace with the growing list of security requirements from foreign and Afghan organisations.

Dark omen

Across social media, Afghans and foreigners - who were treated to his hospitality - mourned his passing with sadness and shock: for him, for Afghanistan.

Kamal's ebullient spirit was forged in his native Lebanon, his brushes with danger and intrigue in places like Baghdad and Kabul.

His warm and ready smile was the mark of a wandering soul who made his home in places where people often lived on the edge and wanted a place to forget that.

Afghan security forces help an injured man in Kabul. Photo: 17 January 2014 As well as the fatalities, a number of people were injured in the attack

In a tragic twist, his Lebanese friend, the 60-year-old IMF resident representative Wabel Abdallah, also died that night. I often saw them together at the restaurant, reminiscing about the land they left and the place they now called home.

Hours after the blast, details were still emerging of who had perished during what was meant to be a relaxed evening out in Kabul eating the best of Lebanese fare.

Kamal did everything possible to make his Taverna restaurant a home away from home for many Kabul residents.

Whatever food you ordered, he brought double the amount. And when he joined your table, he also brought compelling tales to share.

One night I invited him to join us to discuss a film we were planning on a famous Kabul roundabout that, for centuries, was a focus group for kings and courtiers. In Dari they called it Akbar-e Sar-e Chowk - the news from the roundabout.

It was Kamal who suggested, with his trademark chuckle, that we include the most modern way to find out what was happening - the white surveillance blimp, the eye in the sky bobbing above the presidential palace.

My BBC colleague in Kabul, Bilal Sarwary. said the Taliban attackers did their own research before their attack. Police told him they arrived with "maps, dates, and energy drinks" for a "very organised and well-planned" operation.

When they blasted through the double metal doors, they also destroyed a little of the hope that Kabul can always be the safe inviting place Kamal Hamade wanted the Taverna to be.

"Kabul is bleeding," Bilal wrote on Twitter. "And so is my heart."

In a momentous year meant to measure the strength of Afghan security and stability, it was a dark omen that a precious light in the city had been snuffed out.

Map

More Asia stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Wall art Off the wall

    Belfast is shifting its creative focus - from unconventional street art to modern sculptures

Programmes

  • A motorised skateboadThe Travel Show Watch

    The motorised skateboard which can reach speeds of 17mph (27 km/h) and other travel technology

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.