Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum returned home on Saturday to cheering supporters and high-ranking officials and escaped possible harm from a suicide bomber by minutes. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack outside the Kabul airport where Dostum landed. The blast killed at least 14 and injured at least 50 more, according to Reuters.
His arrival marked the end of his exile to Turkey over a year ago for accusations that he issued orders for the kidnapping and rape of a political rival, which he denies. Hashmat Estankzai, of the Kabul police, told reporters that the suicide bomber had positioned himself outside the airport’s gate. Reports vary as to whether Dostum had already departed or was in the process of departing when the blast went off.
BBC reports that the abuse of Dostum’s former ally, Ahmad Eshchi, is one example of the atrocities for which the vice president is believed to be responsible. Esnchi has described beatings that stretched across days, as well as violent sexual assaults that were ordered by Dostum. Ten men and his former friend participated in the abuse that allegedly took place at Dostum’s home in late 2016. The Afghan vice president denies the charges and has blamed Afghanistan’s intelligence service for Eshchi’s experience.
The U.S. State Department once referred to Dostum as a “quintessential warlord.” Among the allegations against him are charges that he killed Taliban prisoners by locking them in cargo containers without air. He has also denied those accusations.
He has also denied that he was exiled to Turkey, claiming that he, instead, was there for medical attention.
General Dostum left the airport in an armored vehicle and traveled to his office compound to speak to a crowd of supporters who had been waiting hours for his arrival. In his speech, he briefly mentioned the attack at the Kabul airport. Among the subjects he spoke about was his support for peace talks with the Taliban and a plea for elections free of “fraud.”
During his time in Turkey, he found two new allies who joined him in Kabul on Saturday. Atta Mohammad Noor is a powerful figure among ethnic Tajiks, and Mohammad Mohaqiq is a leader of the Hazara minority. He described their alliance as one intended to build “common support for the system.”
It’s believed that President Ashfar Ghani arranged for the return of the exiled leader. He said Saturday that the charges against Dostum would be dealt with through independent legal means.