Canadian diplomat's 2006 death in Kandahar still unpunished

Documents detail exasperation of Canadian officials with Afghan justice system and government indifference

OTTAWA – Ten years after a suicide bomber took the life of diplomat Glyn Berry, newly released documents depict a frustrating — and fruitless — search for justice in what proved to be the first shot in Canada’s long, bloody combat mission in Kandahar.

Hundreds of pages of heavily censored reports and memos, written in the aftermath of the brutal attack, spell out the exasperation Canadian officials felt with both the Afghan tribal justice system and later the indifference of the Karzai government in pursuing the case.

The family intends to mark today’s sombre anniversary with a quiet celebration of Berry’s life and legacy, his widow Valerie told The Canadian Press.

“It will be a small family gathering, with nothing but happy thoughts,” she said.

“We remember the fun times we had together, the laughs, adventures, friends we made along the way, his witty banter and his steadfast willingness to do the right thing. He gave us so many fond memories and for that we can only be thankful.”

Berry, 59, was the political director of the provincial reconstruction base in the southern Afghan city. He was returning from Kandahar Airfield after trying to meet local officials when his lightly armoured G-Wagon was struck by a bomb-laden vehicle on a busy thoroughfare at the edge of the city.

Three soldiers were also injured in the blast, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. A suspect who was thought to have organized the attack was arrested shortly afterward.

But Pir Mohammed was released from custody on the assurance of local warlord and militia leader Mullah Naqib, a member of the same tribe and a staunchly anti-Taliban ally for the Canadians.

The documents — dating from 2006 to 2010 and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act — show officials getting increasingly exasperated with the Afghan government’s lack of interest in investigating the crime.

At one point in 2007, diplomats were so fed up that they proposed that Canadian police take a more active role in tracking and supervising the Afghan investigation.

“In view of the lack of progress hitherto in bringing the perpetrators to justice, and recent developments which may complicate the investigation, there is a growing sense that Canada should contribute a more active police role to track the Afghan investigation and determine next steps,” said an email from the Canadian embassy to Foreign Affairs headquarters, dated March 28, 2007.

Formal diplomatic notes were sent to the Afghan government expressing Ottawa’s growing dissatisfaction, the documents show.

“Afghan authorities should be helped to understand that we expect them to lead the investigation into this terrorist bombing in their country,” one official wrote in late 2007.

Pressure was applied in both Kabul and Ottawa, where senior officials regularly broached the subject with the Afghan ambassador.

But the protests went largely ignored by the interior minister at the time, Zara Ahmad Moqbil. When the Canadian ambassador, David Sproule, raised the issue with former president Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff, he was assured the Afghans “hadn’t forgotten about the case.”

The documents also reveal that Afghan and Canadian officials tracked the suspect and that he was arrested and released a second time, even though intelligence officers had flagged him as a possible threat.

“Pir Mohammed was arrested a second time on Dec. 13, 2006, after being found in possession of vehicle with a licence plate that matched a watch-list of suspected suicide bombers,” said a partially declassified diplomatic memo.

“He spent three months in custody (barring a brief furlong for Eid) before his release this past week.”

Mohammed’s association with Naqib, whose power and influence was notorious, helped keep him out of jail. That influence was also thought to have played a part when the first police investigator assigned to the case fled Kandahar, citing death threats.

Some 14 months after the bombing, a second investigation was proposed. But Canadian officials expressed skepticism, noting that the war had been grinding on and that “there may be little reliable evidence to gather” and that “organizers of whatever (improvised explosive device) cell (which) supported and directed the dead bomber have been killed” by special forces.

Valerie Berry did not comment on the trove of government documents, but instead suggested that the family is carrying on.

“In a few short weeks we hope to welcome a new member into the family, a baby boy or girl who will hear wonderful stories about his or her granddad,” she said.

“He made us very proud.”

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