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Features

Devastated Afghan Tells of the Perished Life and Dreams of His Younger Sister

May 10, 2021
Bagher Ebrahimi
6 min read
Mass burials for the victims of a bomb attack near Seyed al-Shohada School in Kabul took place on Sunday, May 9
Mass burials for the victims of a bomb attack near Seyed al-Shohada School in Kabul took place on Sunday, May 9
Hamidollah, a young man from Kabul, spent hours frantically searching for his 14-year-old sister Atefeh in hospitals across the Afghan capital
Hamidollah, a young man from Kabul, spent hours frantically searching for his 14-year-old sister Atefeh in hospitals across the Afghan capital
"There were so many casualties. Dozens of lifeless bodies. Some were badly burned and had lost their faces; their families recognized them by their feet and shoes"
"There were so many casualties. Dozens of lifeless bodies. Some were badly burned and had lost their faces; their families recognized them by their feet and shoes"
Supporters of ISIS and the Taliban have been variously blamed for the attack, which left hundreds more injured
Supporters of ISIS and the Taliban have been variously blamed for the attack, which left hundreds more injured

More than 60 people, many of them schoolgirls, were killed and at least 150 others injured in a bomb attack in front of Seyed al-Shohada School in Kabul’s Dasht-e Barchi district on Saturday, May 8. Horrifying images of bloodied children and their families wandering the devastated grounds surfaced online hours after the incident, and by Sunday morning, the bodies of the youngsters killed were being buried side by side.

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has declared Tuesday, May 11 a national day of mourning in the aftermath of the tragedy. According to one report by Tolo News, most of the students affected were from "poor families" and the injured were sent for treatment at some 12 different hospitals.

The school day at Seyed al-Shohada was over at the time of the blast. Children and teenagers of all ages were preparing to return home. But then three consecutive explosions rang out, ending dozens of innocent lives in a matter of moments, and shaking Afghan society and observers all over the world to their core.

Scores of pupils harmed in the blast were taken to hospital, while other victims’ families embarked on a desperate hunt for their children, picking through the wreckage of torn-off backpacks, blood-spattered books and lost shoes scattered across the landscape.

One of the victims was a 14-year-old girl called Atefeh: a seventh-grader whose older brother Hamidollah found her backpack and half-burned veil in front of the building. Staring into a void, this young man described the scene to IranWire in a narration filled at times with hatred and abject disbelief.

Hamidollah was sitting in a nearby shop when the sound of the explosion disturbed him. A thick smoke rose from the vicinity of the school. “It was less than half a minute before the next explosion took place,” he said. “The road was closed. People were rushing toward the school: women, men, old and young, all headed in one direction, and crying out loud. I ran there too. There was blood everywhere. I did not find my sister."

Next, Hamidollah rushed home, hoping to find his Atefeh safe there. But there was no sign of her. With every passing moment, his anxiety grew worse. He returned to the schoolyard and kept searching for his sister amid the smoke, rubble and blood. Suddenly he caught sight of Atefeh’s backpack and charred veil, left among other victims’ belongings.

“I ran to the nearest hospital to find her,” he said. “Residential buildings had been destroyed and glass had rained down on the schoolgirls. A sea of ​​blood had been left behind. I thought Atefeh had also been injured."

By the time Hamidollah stepped into the hospital, five children had been officially counted among the dead and 15 were known to be wounded: numbers that would rise, exponentially and horrifically, in the hours that followed. Before doing anything else he checked for his sister’s name on the casualty list. It was not there.

Still at a run, Hamidollah made his way Mohammad Ali Jinnah Hospital in western Kabul, where the bodies of many victims of the terrorist attack had been conveyed. He waited there for his uncle to join him, and once again they checked the list, but again, there was no sign of Atefeh. Other members of the family meanwhile scoured other local hospitals, frantic for news of the teenager’s condition.

The sight of some of the other young victims shook Hamidollah. "There were so many casualties. Dozens of lifeless bodies. Some were badly burned and had lost their faces; their families recognized them by their feet and shoes."

Then he received a call from a family member at Kateb Hospital. He rushed to the scene, a knot in his stomach. But doctors had misidentified the body; the corpse of a different, innocent child had been registered under Atefeh’s name.

The hours crawled by. The sky in Kabul had turned black and there was still no news of Atefeh. Hamidollah burst into tears and returned home empty-handed, with reports of dozens of other victims being distributed between hospitals ringing in his ears. He was so tired he could no longer stand upright.

Later that night, Hamidollah’s father, mother and a number of other relatives went to Esteghlal Hospital together. Again, Atefeh was not there. The next hospital they visited was called Child Health. Then Hamidollah received a call from his uncle, telling him: “Atefeh is injured."

The seedlings of hope sprouted in Hamidollah’s heart. "He said they had found Atefeh. and that she was wounded. I was happy; I was glad. I said to myself, thank God, we found her, maybe she’ll be fine.

“I called my uncle again and he confirmed again that she was injured. But when I asked him where she was injured, he hung up."

After the ominous phone call, Hamidollah was left alone and in a state of renewed fear. Then an old friend of his came to him, with tears in his eyes, bearing the news of Atefeh’s death. His world turned black.

"When Atefeh’s body was brought to the mosque that night, I sat in front of her until morning and cried. Atefeh has now gone underground and left me alone."

Choked by tears, Hamidollah struggled to complete his account. But he said his sister had loved her time at school and dreamed of becoming a doctor. She had been trying to learn several different languages, he said, to increase her chances.

The day after the massacre, on Sunday, May 9, and after the burial, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani called the tragedy a "clear example of a crime against humanity" and of "anti-Islamic values". The terrorists, he claimed, were supporters of ISIS and the Taliban and through these actions, were trying to deprive children in Afghanistan of the blessings of education.

He also declared Tuesday, May 11 a day of national mourning period and instructed the first vice president to provide financial assistance for the treatment of the wounded and the victims’ families. Flags will be flown at half-mast at all public buildings on Tuesday.

Some 7,500 girls study at Seyed al-Shohada in the afternoons, and 7,000 male students in the mornings. This is not the first time that schools have been targeted by Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan and in many cases, the victims have been disproportionately female.

According to Tolou News, some of the girls who survived the attack on Saturday have spoken out against the perpetrators, insisting these crimes will not destroy their will to learn and no-one will stop them from studying. Pictures posted on social media also appeared to show a mother taking her two daughters to school the day after the attack, in a display of defiance against those who would keep them down.

Related coverage:

"An Attack on Knowledge and Progress": At Least 22 Killed at Kabul University During Iranian Book Fair

The Specter of the Taliban and the Last Valentine's Day in Kabul

Afghan MPs Accuse Iran of Supporting Terror in Herat

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