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U.S. diplomat killed in suicide blast was on foot

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A promising young U.S. Foreign Service officer, three American soldiers and a civilian government contractor who were killed on Saturday in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan probably wouldn't have been close to the blast if they had not been lost while walking to the school where they were to participate in a book-donation ceremony, according to an Afghan television reporter who was with them and was wounded in the attack.

Ahmad Zia Abed, a reporter for Shamshad TV, said he and a videographer from his station were among about a dozen people, including the officer, Anne Smedinghoff, 25, whom American soldiers were escorting on the 200-yard walk from the local headquarters of the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team to what they thought was the school. A man at the gate said they had the wrong place, that it was the provincial agriculture institute.

The group retraced its steps to the American base to decide what to do next, Abed said. The entrance to the base is just a few feet from the street, he said, and just as they reached it — walking more or less in single file — something slammed into his back and he staggered forward. Disoriented, he saw a car wheel roll past him.

“At first I thought that a car had left the road and struck me,” he said. “But then I turned around and saw it had been a bomb.”

Abed's account of the bombing, the most detailed to surface since the explosion, raises new questions about the circumstances that led to the deadliest combat incident in Afghanistan for Americans this year. The account also contradicts what relatives of the victims have said they were told — that Smedinghoff and her military escorts had been in an armored vehicle when it was rammed by a suicide vehicle.

Smedinghoff was the first American diplomat to die in Afghanistan during more than 11 years of warfare here.

The FBI has opened an investigation into the attack, said a U.S. government official who declined to be identified because of the investigation. He confirmed that the party had been on foot and said that earlier reports that they were in a vehicle convoy were inaccurate.

Being on foot would have made the group particularly vulnerable to the effects of the explosion. Abed was interviewed at his home in Kabul, where he is recovering from surgery to remove chunks of the suicide vehicle from his left hand and the back of his right knee.

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