A British woman killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul wrote a tragic last message on Twitter just weeks before she died, asking: ‘I am back in Afghanistan and wonder what lies before me this time.’
Jeni Ayris, from Edinburgh, died alongside 11 fellow aviation workers when a female insurgent rammed a car laden with explosives into their minibus as they drove to the airport on Tuesday.
Islamist group Hezb-e-Islami claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming it was in retaliation for the controversial American film allegedly lampooning the Prophet Mohammad which has sparked turmoil across the Muslim world.
Ms Ayris, 47, who had been in Afghanistan for little more than a month, was due to return home to see her sister Patricia and friends in Scotland only this weekend.
Heartbroken friends described her today as a ‘great cook who loved entertaining’ and a passionate sailor who enjoyed boating on the Firth of Forth and along the West Coast of Scotland.
She had been working in the country for just over a year as a customer relations manager for aviation firm Air Charter Solutions/BalmOral, organising private flights for charities and NGOs into and out of the country.
‘She loved her job,’ said friend Richard Kellett, a restaurant manager and former Army captain in the Scots Guards.
‘She would go out there for three months at a time and come home for one. She was due to come home this weekend.
‘She loved it out there and always looked forward to going back when she came home on leave.’
He said Ms Ayris, who was born in South Africa but had lived in Scotland for 20 years and gained British nationality, had no immediate family apart from sister Patricia, who he said was ‘distraught’ over her death.
Ms Ayris and a partner opened a cafe called Ndebele in Edinburgh several years ago, serving South African food.
‘Patricia got a call from the company only this morning telling her her sister had been killed in a roadside bomb. It wasn’t until later that she found out it was a suicide blast.
‘Patricia is distraught. Jeni was her only family and she cannot come to terms with the violent manner in which her sister was killed.
‘She was a wonderful woman and a wonderful friend.
‘She loved sailing and spent time sailing in the Firth of Forth and on the West Coast of Scotland.
‘She was a great cook and loved entertaining, dinners and parties at her house were always great fun.
Abandoned possessions: Afghan security personnel carry bags belonging to foreign contractors
‘She was an amazing friend who could always be relied upon to help you out of any situation no matter how difficult it might be. She always had a great positive energy and a buzz about her.’
Michael Hodgson, 39, who is from the Netherlands and is a close friend of Ms Ayris, set up a Facebook page in tribute to her.
‘Jeni Ayris was a warm, kind and generous person with an everyday objective of helping everyone she met,’ he said.
‘She had a positive boundless energy which rubbed off on everyone, making her loss all the more hurtful.
‘Jeni leaves behind a sister who is her only family as well as a huge number of friends across Scotland and the world who are all absolutely devastated by her tragic death.
‘Although born in South Africa, Jeni was a British citizen and her home was firmly rooted in Edinburgh where she had lived for the last 17 years.
‘For 10 years she was a popular figure in Tollcross where she ran the Ndebele South African Cafe and Delicatessen.
‘Jeni was highly respected and valued in her job as a manager in the aviation sector where she was responsible for the safe air travel of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) throughout Afghanistan, and her contribution was her practical way of helping Afghanistan move forward.
‘At this moment her sister and close friends ask everyone to respect the privacy of the family and their loss.’
Mr Hodgson met Ms Ayris when she first moved to Edinburgh, where they both worked as silver service waiters.
He said they ‘just clicked’ as friends and described her as his ‘night and day’ and ‘like a sister’.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: ‘We can confirm that one of those killed in the attack was a dual South African and British national.
‘Our deepest sympathies are with the families of all those involved.’
He said the office was liaising with the Afghan government and providing consular assistance.
The firm Ms Ayris worked for, ACS/BalmOral, said today: BalmOral Central Contracts can now confirm that all the people that were killed in the Afghanistan suicide bomb blast on Tuesday the 18th September 2012 have been identified.
Putting out the flames: Afghanistan firefighters pour water on the remains of the Sedan that carried the bomber along a major highway leading to the airport
‘We have been in contact with each of the families and relatives and will be keeping them all up to date with the necessary arrangements to bring their remains back to South Africa.
‘BalmOral Central Contracts wish to convey our sincere condolences to all involved and affected by this random tragic event. We thank the South African aviation community for their concern and assistance during these very difficult times.’
The bomber was named by Afghan insurgents as Fatima, 22, who was reportedly wearing a suicide vest and blew herself up on a large avenue northwest of the city centre near the airport.