BOOM! The truck bomb and the shock wave of rumour.

Kabul is a big place, and most explosions are distant, and hardly or not at all heard. At this time of year a large proportion are gas bottles exploding, so you don’t know for sure whether it is an attack or something else. Like a car backfiring. Most are little things like that.

1030 in the Office. Typing an email. BOOM! There is no doubt what this one was. The power of the blast makes it clear that this was no gas bottle. The building shakes, the windows rattle. People in the conexes outside later reported the containers being lifted and dropped and the dust rising.

The natural reaction – modest adrenalin hit, from the boom and the pretension, the latter the result of an endless stream of threat messages. Clarifies the mind wonderfully. My instinctive response: check the window. Know what’s going on. Nothing outside, noone is attacking us, traffic on the highway outside not stopped. Others, who think the explosion is the Taliban at the gates, rush to the door to lock it. And everone talks, to anyone handy. The comfort of knowing more, of gathering intelligence, I guess, and of rationalising the circumstances.

Ring the ops room to alert them. ‘Huge blast nearby.’ ‘Yes, we know, we’ll be in touch.’ Ok, bye, they know, they will be busy. We found out later it was heard 20 kilometres away.

To the safe room. As we go the phone rings. ‘Where are you?’ ‘In the building, on the way.’ Arrive as the steel doors open for more people come down and then close, while people check locations of others.

Inside, a pressure cooker, a rumour mill. Within ten minutes I hear of five different locations. The Airport. The Police Station. A petrol station on the highway. A warehouse nearby. Over there, where the smoke is coming from. None of these turned out to be true, but people have a knowledge vacuum and it seems they just have to fill it. It was a rocket. It was a bomb. It was a petrol tanker. There was one blast. There were two blasts. I only heard one, I suspect others may have heard echoes. ‘You didn’t hear the second?’ You distrust your own memory. It came from the East, from the North, from the South. It was nearby, it was quite a long way away. On it goes.

The problem with adrenaline, with no obvious threat, it is that it just leaves you hypersensitive. And the triggering event lingers in your mind. Every time the steel door closes, with a little boom, I react. Was that another explosion? Is this a one off, or a complex attack? We receive a report that there has been a second explosion, over by Lake Quargha. It turned out to be a phantom explosion, another false rumour.

On the twitter feed #Kabul is pumping. The noise of the explosion has alerted five million people that something has gone down. The messages are clear, unclear, some of them obviously wrong. Rumour filling social media. All endlessly retweeted as the shock wave of rumour spreads. And we see it picked up by the mass media. Reported to be here. Reported to be there. Reported to be this. Reported to be that.

Then the long wait. The unknown of what will happen next, and the likelihood that nothing will happen next. The crazy, hyped up, security conscious westerners, as traffic passes by on the highway as usual. Occasionally a siren passes, but Kabulis with sirens love driving with their sirens on. Whatever has happened, it hasn’t blocked the road. But you just don’t know. Sometimes a second bomb is detonated some time after the first, when responders from Police and Army are there.

Locals arrive on time for a meeting. A bomb down the road does not dissuade them. OK, lets meet. A time filler, a diversion, and a good outcome. The traffic is still passing by as usual. And after a couple of hours someone officially declares life to be back to normal, and it goes on. Much later we learn that the exlosion was a single truck bomb.

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