KABUL — Still traumatized and broken by the fallout of another major terrorist attack on the United States 15 years ago, Afghans said Monday they weren’t about to get worked up about the latest one.
They have enough to worry about, they said, even though Sunday’s deadly rampage at a Florida nightclub has once again pushed their country back into the global headlines, perhaps unfairly.
Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, was born to Afghan immigrants. Mateen’s father, Seddique, is believed to have resettled in the United States about three decades ago but has tried to remain active in Afghanistan’s political affairs.
But the reaction of many Afghans to the shooting was relatively muted — and accompanied by a widespread sense that they are not about to take the fall for this one.
Fifteen years ago, after al-Qaeda attacked New York and Washington on 9/11, scared Afghan families huddled at night awaiting the U.S. response to the then-Taliban government’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden.
This time, as President Obama acknowledged Monday by attributing the attack to “homegrown extremism,” Afghans said they viewed Omar Mateen as the United States’ problem.
“He was born there, and raised there, and married there,” Jamshid Sardarzai, 26, said Monday night in Kabul, shortly after residents here broke their fast for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. “It’s a completely individual act.”
For much of Monday, as lucky Afghans slept through their daylight hunger and thirst while the unlucky ones reported for work, there appeared to be little discussion here of the massacre in Florida.
Afghan news stations aired only sporadic reports, and government officials largely avoided questions about the Mateen family’s past.
But as evening approached, Afghans began taking stock of the latest act of terrorism and what it meant for them and their Islamic faith.
Afghan and Western officials said they had uncovered no record that Omar Mateen had ever traveled to Afghanistan, despite his family’s heritage.
His father’s travel history was less certain, but Afghan government officials said he did not appear to be a frequent visitor.
Officials said they did not know when Seddique Mateen left the country for the United States, but noted that millions of Afghans fled after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Seddique Mateen appeared to maintain a strong affiliation to Afghanistan, hosting a television show broadcast from California that weighed in on the country’s political affairs.
He also filmed dozens of sparsely viewed, rambling YouTube videos portraying himself as an important Afghan analyst and leader.
Mohammad Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said many Afghan leaders first became aware of Seddique Mateen several months ago when he posted a video in which he declared himself the country’s president in exile.
“People would make jokes about this guy,” Chakhansuri said. “He looked very serious, but no one could tell what he was talking about.”
Chakhansuri noted that Seddique Mateen posted a YouTube video in 2014 that included an interview with Ghani while he was running for president.
Late Monday, however, Afghan officials determined that Seddique Mateen actually conducted the interview four years earlier when Ghani was on a visit to Washington.
“The president didn’t even recall encountering the man,” Chakhansuri said.
On the streets of Kabul, some Afghans who acknowledged that they had heard about the massacre appeared personally offended when asked to comment on it.
“We very much expect and hope our American friends do not link the deed of a man to a nation, tribe, religion or country,” said Mohammad Musa, an engineer.
Such sentiment is driven by a widespread belief here that Afghanistan’s chronic suffering – including a record number of civilian and military causalities last year — can be partially traced to poor U.S. execution of the war.
With 64 percent of Afghans under the age of 25, many here struggle to even remember why U.S. forces landed in the country in the first place. That has fueled lots of conspiracy theories. Some Afghans believe the United States secretly supports the Taliban.
So it’s not surprising that the Orlando shooting is already spawning a number of equally wild theories.
“It’s a conspiracy plot against Muslims to apply even more restrictions on Muslims, not only in the United States but around the world,” Omid Shah, 25, said as he broke his fast while sitting on a sidewalk in Kabul’s Shar-E-Now neighborhood.
But other Afghans appeared mindful that the possible reaction in the West to the shootings could have far-reaching implications on what they consider to be an already tough, unfair life.
More than 150,000 Afghans sought asylum in Europe last year, and there is mounting concern that Sunday’s massacre could expedite calls in European capitals for them to be deported. Refugees from Syria and Iraq are widely expected to be granted political asylum.
Many Afghans also worry about the future of a program to resettle translators and others who helped U.S. forces.
Abbulahad Sohrabi, 38, an Afghan government employee, said he expects Americans will not abandon the principle of “respect” as they sift through their emotions.
“This was an act against humanity,” said Sohrabi, 38. “But we do not think of all animals as the same – like lions, tigers and frogs are all different – so we expect and hope the U.S. will not think of all Afghans as the same.”
Mohammad Sharif and Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.