An animal charity boss who witnessed today’s suspected suicide bombing on Kabul airport said his vehicle was targeted by AK-47-wielding gunman and his driver was almost ‘shot in the head’.
Pen Farthing, who founded the Nowzad shelter in Kabul, currently has 200 dogs and cats in a travel container outside the airport as he waits to board an evacuation flight.
The former Royal Marine, who was in a car when the incident occurred, said: ‘We’re fine but everything is chaos here at the moment.
‘All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted, had our driver not turned around he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47.
‘We’ve been in the airport, and back out of the airport; the whole thing’s a mess. There’s not much more I can say at the moment, I need to make sure the animals and everyone is safe.’
Two separate explosions have rocked Kabul with at least 13 casualties including children and three US soldiers among the wounded just hours after warnings of an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS terror attack.
Before news of the attack emerged, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace blasted Mr Farthing’s supporters for claiming he had blocked a flight to rescue the animals, saying it was a ‘total myth’.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson denied he had had any influence on the rescue attempt after being asked to intervene by his wife, Carrie, who is a vocal animal rights activist.
Pen Farthing, who founded the Nowzad shelter in Kabul, said he was caught up in today’s suspected suicide bombing
A suicide bomb has caused a huge explosion outside Kabul airport with ‘unknown casualties’ just hours after warnings of an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS terrorist attack
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said: ‘We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can’
In a series of tweets, Mr Wallace criticised ‘bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour’ towards Ministry of Defence staff.
He said: ‘Let’s get some facts out there: One. No one, at any stage has blocked a flight.
‘This is a total myth and is being peddled around as if that is why the pet evacuation hasn’t taken place. Two. I never said I would not facilitate. I said no one would get to queue jump.
‘Three. The issue, as those desperate people waiting outside the gates know too well, has always been getting processed through the entrances. It can take over 24 hours. There is no point turning up with a plane until the passengers / pets are airside.
‘Suicide bomb’ kills 13 at Kabul airport: TWO explosions and gunfire rip through crowds, causing multiple casualties including children
By Jack Newman and Nick Craven for MailOnline
At least 13 people including children and US soldiers have been killed in two separate explosions near Kabul airport just hours after warnings of an ‘imminent’ and ‘lethal’ ISIS terror attack.
One of the blasts ripped through a crowd of Afghans gathered at the Abbey gate of the Hamid Karzai airport, and another hit Barons Hotel, followed by gunfire and mass panic.
Images from the scene show scores of bloodied people being carried away in wheelbarrows after one of the bombers detonated in a sewage canal-way packed with people overlooked by US troops.
The devastation could spell the end of the airlifts before the August 31 deadline, with Germany already pulling out all its military planes, potentially leaving thousands stranded under Taliban rule.
Meanwhile an Afghan man queueing to enter the airport said the explosion hit the middle of a crowd of thousands, and he saw many injured and maimed people and was told of multiple fatalities.
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said: ‘We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport. Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can.’
A Number 10 spokesman said Boris Johnson has been updated on the situation and will chair a COBR meeting later this afternoon, while Joe Biden has also been briefed.
‘Four. As people were processed ARAP (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy), LOTR (Leave outside the Immigration Rules) etc they were called forward. Once processed and on the airfield they are marshalled on to a plane. As I have said we will facilitate at all stages but the priority will be people not pets.’
Mr Wallace went on to say there had been no ‘U-turn’ over the issue, calling for critics to allow civil servants and the military to deal ‘with one of the most dangerous and challenging evacuations for a generation’.
He added: ‘The bullying, falsehoods and threatening behaviour by some towards our MOD personnel and advisors is unacceptable and a shameful way to treat people trying to help the evacuation. They do their cause no good.’
Since the collapse of the Afghan government, Mr Farthing and his supporters have campaigned to have his staff and their families as well as 140 dogs and 60 cats evacuated from the country in a plan he has dubbed Operation Ark.
Reports have suggested the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie stepped in to push for his rescue.
Asked about the reports today, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’ve had absolutely no influence on any particular case, nor would that be right.
‘That’s not, that’s not how we do things in this country.’
This morning, Mr Farthing issued a plea on Twitter to ensure his ‘safe passage’ into Kabul airport.
Addressing the Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, Mr Farthing said: ‘Dear Sir; my team & my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy?
‘We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely.’
He added: ‘We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage. Truly would like to go home now. Let’s prove the IEA are taking a different path.’
His friend and supporter Dominic Dyer, from Milton Keynes, said a privately funded plane had been due to land on Friday from Luton airport, but plans had to be scrapped due to security fears.
Before news of the attack emerged, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace blasted Mr Farthing’s supporters for claiming he had blocked a flight to rescue the animals, saying it was a ‘total myth’
Today shocking footage emerged of the animals gasping for breath inside the packed container
Mr Dyer said another plane is now waiting in a ‘neighbouring country’ but cannot land in Kabul until Mr Farthing is granted entry into the airport.
He said: ‘We have a plan in place and we can act swiftly, but not until he’s granted entry into the airport.
‘It’s a complicated situation and the door is closing, the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial – we need it to happen before then to avoid him, his staff and the animals becoming stuck in the country.
‘There are options for him to go back to his centre and hunker down or he could try and leave the country on the road – but there are fears over the Taliban closing the borders, so it’s unclear what’s going to happen.’
Earlier today, Armed Forces minister James Heappey said British forces could not move ‘desperate Afghans’ to make way for Mr Farthing’s pet rescue mission – as harrowing footage emerged of dogs suffering from the heat while stuck in a container outside Kabul airport.
Mr Heappey said that while the former Royal Marine deserved praise for staying behind with his staff and animals until they are evacuated, giving them priority over other desperate people waiting to leave ‘doesn’t feel like the right thing to do’.
Taliban militants have blocked Mr Farthing’s convoy carrying 173 cats and dogs from entering Kabul airport to flee Afghanistan – as he warned the animals could soon die from heat exhaustion after being left for more than ten hours in a sweltering travel crate.
Today shocking footage emerged of the animals gasping for breath inside the packed container.
Summing up the situation this morning, Armed Forces minister James Heappey suggested it would be wrong to prioritise Mr Farthing and his animals for processing over other applicants.
He told Sky News: ‘For him, it is a grim reality of these situations that as a British national we would seek to expedite his passage into the airport but he, commendably, has said that is not what he wants to do.
‘He is asking us, the Americans and the Taliban for safe passage but I am afraid safe passage is also other words for being brought to the front of the queue.
‘And I just wonder how you feel about having to make a decision whereby we move lots of desperate Afghans out of the way to bring him through because of the profile and the support he has. That doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. It gives me no pleasure to say that though.’
The blast took place near the Baron Hotel at the Abbey Gate of the airport where huge crowds had gathered in an attempt to enter the airport
Mr Farthing had decided to travel to the airport after Boris Johnson personally overruled Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to allow the evacuation flight to go ahead following an intervention from his wife, Carrie, according to reports.
Mr Wallace had been adamant he would prioritise ‘people over pets’ for evacuation, and the suggestion the PM reversed his decision at the vocal animal rights activist’s urging sparked a huge political row last night. An MoD spokesman told Sky News the claim was a ‘lie’.
Mr Farthing has commissioned a private plane from a Polish operator which he plans to fly to Tajikistan before returning to Britain. The jet is expected to leave Luton later today, animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer told the BBC.
Mr Farthing, founder of animal charity Nowzad, had made a midnight dash to the airport when he and his team were rushed by 15 armed fighters, one of whom fired a gun over their heads.
Mr Farthing, who has previously fought in Afghanistan, tried to flee the country with 25 staff and their families along with 94 dogs and 79 cats and two trucks loaded with food and supplies in case they got stuck.
But during their race across the city last night, they were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint by a group of militants.
‘About 15 guys jumped out and levelled their guns at us,’ Mr Farthing told The Sun:
‘Then one of them had an ND [a negligent discharge]. Luckily he was a s*** shot and it went over our heads.
‘I very rarely hear Afghans swear in English but I heard a few words then.
Mr Farthing appealed directly to the Taliban on Twitter in a desperate bid to secure the release of the animals
Mr Farthing said he has been in touch with British forces but they said they are powerless to intervene.
Today he appealed directly to the Taliban on Twitter in a desperate bid to secure the release of the animals.
Addressing Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, Mr Farthing wrote: ‘Dear Sir; my team and my animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy?
‘We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely.
‘We have been here for 10 hours after being assured that we would have safe passage. Truly would like to go home now. Let’s prove the IEA are taking a different path.’
The Government is still scrambling to evacuate thousands of British nationals trapped at Hamid Karzai International Airport
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has repeatedly expressed his frustration about the row, and complained yesterday about the limited resources available to the British military evacuation effort being ‘diverted’ by attempts to rescue the animals.
According to Sky News, Mr Wallace addressed the issue during a call with MPs on Wednesday afternoon, complaining that soldiers in Kabul had been diverted by having to deal with the Nowzad evacuation.
‘What I can tell you, and it is a bit upsetting, is that I have soldiers on the ground who have been diverted from saving those people because of inaccurate stories, inaccurate lobbying that have diverted that resource,’ he is reported to have said.
‘And that is not something I would be proud of, and I’ve been very straight and consistent throughout.’
Mr Farthing was held at the checkpoint for an hour before they were finally allowed to drive across the city to the airport.
They arrived there at 2am but they still remain behind the blockade unable to enter the transport hub.
Mr Johnson is said to have personally intervened in the row at the urging of his wife, Carrie (they are seen in Cornwall during the G7 meeting)
Staff have parked their trucks in the shade in an effort to keep the animals cool and have been spraying the crates with water.
The Government is still scrambling to evacuate thousands of British nationals trapped at Hamid Karzai International Airport – which fell under Taliban control last week.
Animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer, a friend of Mr Farthing, told MailPlus that the u-turn on animal evacuations followed an intervention from the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson – a keen supporter of animal welfare issues.
But the claim was quickly dismissed by the Ministry of Defence, with a spokesperson reportedly telling Sky News that they were a ‘lie’.