BAGHLANI-JADID, Afghanistan — Up to two-thirds of the 77 people killed and 100 wounded in a suicide bombing earlier this month were hit by bullets from visiting lawmakers’ panicked bodyguards, who fired on a crowd of mostly schoolchildren for up to five minutes, a preliminary U.N. report says.
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry says only a “small number” of the victims were hit by gunfire, but an Afghan official in Baghlan province said bodyguards were “raining bullets” on the crowd.
The suicide bomb contained ball bearings, the Interior Ministry said, which may have caused wounds that look like bullet holes.
An Afghan doctor who treated patients after the Nov. 6 blast, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that a high-ranking government official told him not to publicly reveal the number of gunfire victims, suggesting a possible government cover-up.
Separate teams of U.N. investigators have uncovered conflicting information about the number of people hit by gunfire and are trying to reconcile the differences, according to two Western officials who have seen the internal reports. The two spoke to the AP on condition they not be identified talking about preliminary findings.
At least one of those reports — based on interviews with witnesses and medical authorities and a reconstruction of the bomb scene — says that of the roughly 77 people killed and 100 wounded, up to two-thirds were hit by the three to five minutes of gunfire the bodyguards fired into the crowd, one official said.
“A large number of people — and quite probably a majority — were killed and wounded as a result of gunfire after the blast,” said the second official, a U.N. employee. The official said one internal report is highly critical of the bodyguards’ reaction.
Among the dead were 61 students and five teachers, said Education Ministry adviser Hamid Almi. Six members of parliament and five bodyguards also died.
Adrian Edwards, the spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, said there is “very, very conflicting” information on the number of gunfire victims.
“The reports we’re hearing are that significant numbers were victims of gunfire, but defining who died from gunfire, who died from the explosion is pretty difficult,” Edwards said.
Hundreds of children had crowded onto the tree-lined driveway leading to the New Baghlan Sugar Factory to greet visiting lawmakers when the blast went off. Witnesses and survivors describe bodyguards firing into the thick black smoke for up to five minutes after the attack.
“One guy pointed his gun at me, but I put my hands up and said, ‘Don’t shoot!”’ 13-year-old Nezamuddin said from his hospital bed. He said a bullet had passed through his ankle, which was bandaged with gauze. “A lot of bullets were fired. … My friends were hit by bullets.”