‘May God disgrace them’: Families grieve after Taliban strike kills children
By J.P. LAWRENCE AND ZUBAIR BABAKARKHAIL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 3, 2019
KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmad Faisal, 12, returned to the empty, debris-strewn halls of his school Wednesday in search of his backpack.
Two days earlier, Ahmad left his bag in a rush after a Taliban truck bomb exploded about 30 yards from the Uzair Public School.
“Everyone was running,” Ahmad said, recalling how he saw a bloody gash that was sliced into a classmate’s forehead by shards of flying glass, and other children with cuts on their hands, legs and eyes. Ahmad’s teacher’s head was covered in blood.
Ahmad was one of many Afghans coping with the aftermath of Monday’s attack, which the Taliban said targeted a nearby Afghan military logistics depot but left dozens of civilians wounded and killed at least 10 people, including an 8-year-old girl named Feroza.
Feroza had only recently started going to school.
“She was very intelligent, and wanted to become a doctor,” her father Nabiullah, 28, told Stars and Stripes in the family home.
Feroza was taking her 11-year-old sister Marwa to the charity that had helped her get away from a life of working menial jobs and into the classroom. Feroza, a second-grader, wanted them to do the same for her big sister, but she never had the chance. She was killed by shrapnel as she walked by a gas station near the attack.
Marwa survived the blast that killed Feroza. When she woke up in the hospital in Kabul, her memory of the attack had been erased, but she knew her sister was gone.
“Marwa is not talking a lot now,” her father said as another tear slid down his cheek. “She is mostly quiet and does not want to eat.
“Those who carry out such attacks are not even human,” the father said. “They kill innocent people and children.”
Nabiullah said blame for the death of his young daughter and others fell not just on the Taliban, who rapidly claimed responsibility for the attack, but also on the government.
“I blame the government, too, because how can a truck full of explosives reach its target without being searched or checked at all the checkpoints in the city?”
As he spoke, his wife stared silently into the distance. Then, she stood up and left the room to cry in the doorway of the family home.
Returning to class
It was around 9 a.m. Monday that the truck bomb exploded near the 11-story building that houses Uzair Public School.
After detonating the bomb, the attackers entered the school building and from the upper floors engaged in an hourslong gunfight with Afghan police. The walls of the high-rise were pockmarked Wednesday with holes from the bullets that had ricocheted around the building. The police said at about 5 p.m. that all of the militants had been killed.
Craters made by what locals said were rockets or rocket-propelled grenades used during the attack stood Wednesday as reminders of the day of terror.
Many of the children’s parents had rushed to the school when they got word of the attack. After several hours, during a lull in the fighting, police entered the building and evacuated Ahmad and his classmates.
Ahmad’s parents hugged him and took him home, where he showered and lay down to sleep, only to have nightmares haunt him through the night, he said.
The next day, with class canceled, he again found himself thinking about the attack, the blood, the destruction and those who perpetrated it, Ahmad said.
“May God disgrace them,” the boy said of the Taliban attackers.
Uzair Public School is expected to reopen on Saturday, said the school’s principal, Niamatullah Hamdard.
For a few days, the teachers will just play with the children, challenge them to cricket games, paint with them, Hamdard said. The students have exams coming up and can’t spend too much time away from their studies, but Hamdard said they want to bring the students back slowly.
A military target?
The ruins of a house remained about 20 yards from where the bomb went off. The Qudratullah family had lived there and were safe but had lost everything they owned, said Mohammed Hashim, a family friend at the site.
Luckily, the family was eating breakfast outside when the bomb went off. Of the three Qudratullah children, one was pinned under the rubble and had to be rescued.
Outside the Qudratullah family’s house, three birds killed in the blast laid on a stone. Someone put them there as a sign of respect, Hashim said, to show that even innocent birds had been harmed by the attack.
Afghan officials said the complex attack claimed 10 lives and wounded about 100. Reports by the New York Times, Washington Post and Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary have put the death toll as high as 40.
The truck bomb was detonated near the gate of the logistics depot and “shook the ground like an earthquake,” said local shopkeeper Aftaab, who like many in Afghanistan goes by one name.
The Taliban said the target of the attack was an Afghan military logistics depot in the mixed residential and commercial neighborhood in eastern Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid acknowledged in a statement that “according to some reports, some civilians have been slightly wounded,” but he insisted that “civilians were not the target.”
The bomb destroyed a disused gas station, and damaged several buildings including schools, a local TV station, a museum and the headquarters of the Afghan Football Federation.
“The attack in Kabul took place when children were arriving at nearby schools, indicating that those who planned and launched it at that time showed a reckless disregard for the safety of innocent lives,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
At the blast site, locals were left literally picking up the pieces in the bomb’s aftermath.
In Watan Furniture Market, shopkeepers beat thick layers of dust from carpets on display while talking about the attack, which occurred just days into a seventh round of peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban.
“The talks with the Taliban in Doha are not useful anymore,” said Haji Rohullah, one of the shopkeepers. “On the one hand, they are having negotiations. On the other hand, they are sending suicide bombers to kill innocent people.”
Bullet holes and craters mar the facade of a high-rise building where Taliban gunmen engaged in an hours-long gunfight with police July 1, 2019. The lower stories of the building house a public school, where around 50 students were injured during the bombing and firefight.
J.P. LAWRENCE/STARS AND STRIPES
Ahmad Faisal, 12, returns to Uzair Public School in Kabul to pick up his backpack July 3, 2019, two days after a devastating bombing and gunfight killed 10 people and injured more than 100, including around 50 schoolchildren. The complex attack was claimed by the Taliban.
J.P. LAWRENCE/STARS AND STRIPES