Wednesday 22 November 2017

'I saw him explode. Then I just saw lots of dead people'

Ben Farmer in Kabul

Wailing and surrounded by the dead, the image of Tarana Akbari distraught in a bloodstained dress symbolised the horror of Kabul's suicide bombing when it appeared on front pages across the world last week.

The schoolgirl was photographed in hysterics with bodies lying at her feet moments after a bomber had killed more than 70 Shia worshippers gathered outside a shrine to mark a holy day.

The 12-year-old lost seven relatives and had another eight wounded as the attacker's suicide vest tore through the festival crowd, her family has now disclosed.

Among the dead was her 11-year-old brother, Shoaib, and both of her other siblings were grievously wounded, her father said as she was released from hospital.

Fifteen members of her extended family attended the festival in the Murad Khane area of the Afghan capital and all were killed or wounded.

"I have lost my brother, I have lost my cousins, I have lost my aunt," Tarana said, leaving the city's Wazir Akbar Khan hospital where she had been treated with scores of other casualties.

In her first interview, Tarana said she thought she had seen the suicide bomber work his way through the crowd towards the shrine gates and try to get inside before he detonated.

"There was a young man who asked an elder at the shrine to open the gates," she said. "Soon after I saw him explode. Then I just saw lots of dead people."

Images of her amid the carnage, dressed in vivid green to mark the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson, made the front pages of 'The New York Times', 'The Washington Post' and 'The Wall Street Journal'.

She suffered shrapnel wounds to her shins, arm and stomach in the blast and was only told on Saturday that her brother had died.

Her father, Ahmad Shah Akbari, keeps one photograph of the devastation in his jacket pocket and said many of those pictured lying slumped and bloodied at his daughter's feet were their relatives.

"I have lost a son and I still have two other children in hospital. I was across town when it happened. They called me on my mobile and told me there had been an explosion. When I arrived, all I could see was injured and dead."


"Tarana is still in a lot of pain and my other children are lying in bed with tubes in them," he said.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said the suicide attack at the Abul Fazl shrine on the holy day of Ashura was unprecedented and it raised fears of a new sectarian dimension to the violence.

The attack has been claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami, an obscure Pakistan-based militant group with a history of targeting Shia Muslims.

The Afghan president heightened tensions with neighbouring Pakistan by threatening to pursue the attack with Islamabad. Mr Akbari, a 37-year-old market porter, said: "Everyone says it was Pakistan -- some party or organisation there. We don't know why they did this."

The death toll from the December 6 blasts was still rising, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public health said. Victims had been taken to hospitals across the city and some had died at home without reaching medical treatment. At least five children and 10 women were among the dead and more than 100 people were wounded. Mr Karzai said on Sunday that the death toll from both attacks was now at least 80.

Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan has been largely spared the Sunni-Shia targeted sectarian killing which has blighted Pakistan and Iraq.

Shia leaders have appealed for calm amid fears the attack was a deliberate provocation to open a rift between the groups and further destabilise the country. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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