The bodies are still being counted from yesterday’s terrorist attack on public administration students at Kabul University. This piece is an account of the attack, and its aftermath.
It is not the first time my news network, TOLOnews, has been in the position of reporting live during attacks on our friends and family; but it is the first time I’ve found myself helping identify the body of a colleague’s child.
TOLOnews already had reporters at the university. They were preparing to cover the opening of a book fair at the university when the shooting started in a nearby building around 10:30am. They covered the attack as it happened. The head of TOLOnews, Lotfullah Najafizada, received reports not only from his colleagues but also from his niece who was at the university. Many of our friends and the network’s reporting journalists had friends or family studying on campus that morning.
The attackers entered the law faculty building in police uniforms. Once the shooting began there was too much confusion to say for sure how many attackers there were, but it’s thought to have been 2 or 3 men. As reports continued to come in of injuries and deaths, Abdul Wali (a ten-year veteran with the MOBY Group; parent entity of TOLOnews), who was already at the university having driven the TOLOnews crew to the book fair, couldn’t reach his daughter, Mariam Hakimi, a fourth-year public administration student. Worried, he refused to return to the office and stayed at the university during the shooting. He sought help from his colleague Anisa Shaheed, a veteran Tolo journalist who was reporting live from the scene. They checked the class rosters and quickly realized Mariam was in the building under attack.
By early evening, the attackers had all been killed but no one was being allowed in- the authorities were clearing the building. Anisa managed to get through the barricade to see if she could find Mariam or ascertain whether she was one of the many many injured. The Faculty Head took her to identify Mariam’s body. She had been one of the ones killed.
We felt that it would be best for station chief Shafic Gawhari and I to break the news to Abdul Wali. We met him at the 400 Bed Military Hospital where some of the bodies were being transported to the morgue. It was mayhem outside with only immediate family members being allowed in.
By the time we got there, Abdul Wali had already seen Mariam’s body. He had difficulty breathing and speaking. Over and over, he asked, “What will I tell her mother? What will I tell her mother?” Mariam was the first of her generation to go to university - having scored top marks in the standardized final exams - still a bold thing for women in Afghanistan.
I accompanied Mariam’s first cousin into the morgue where the bodies were either in black body bags or traditional coffins. He unzipped the bag to reveal a bullet-riddled young woman still wearing a headscarf. I had to help him walk out after that.
The Military Hospital - accustomed to these incidents - was well organized; offering to wash the bodies before handing them over in coffins to the families. Many, in their grief, insisted on taking the bodies of their children home. Abdul Wali, urged by us, agreed to retrieve the body the next morning in order not to further shock the family. The Hospital attendant, Shah Wali Maqsood, promised that female family members would be able to attend the washing ceremony the next morning (as is the norm in the Islamic tradition).
The hospital was a heartrending scene. Families were told to wait outside and only one member would be allowed in. Once inside with their dead child/children, they wailed in isolated grief. There was an older woman who would step into each approaching ambulance with a flashlight to see if her son or daughter was inside. There were others slapping their own faces in shock. Everywhere men and women were screaming.
Over 22 dead with dozens injured. This is a day in Afghanistan 2020, post peace-talks.
Saad Mohseni is Chairman of MOBYGroup. He tweets @saadmohseni.
The views expressed in the opinion pieces are not endorsed or necessarily shared by TOLOnews.
Contributors are responsible for the accuracy of the information in an opinion piece, but if it is discovered that information is not factual, a correction will be added and noted.