On Saturday, July 23, several thousand demonstrators had gathered on Deh Mazang Square. The protesters were mainly from the Hazara ethnic minority, who wanted a re-routing of the TUTAP(Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan) power line through Bamian, a traditionally Hazara province. Originally scheduled to go through Bamian, the government decided in 2013 to build the power line through Salang, in the north. Many Hazaras felt that the move reflected deep-seated discrimination within the government. This is the second major TUTAP protest to be held in Kabul.
The explosions occurred shortly after 2:00 p.m., as protesters were beginning to trickle away, but it still left 84 killed and more than 230 others injured.
According to United Nations it is the deadliest attack in the fifteen years since the international coalition invaded Afghanistan and expelled the Taliban.
The Taliban have condemned the attack; ISIS, which is reported to have a presence in Afghanistan’s east, have claimed responsibility.
Maryam Mehtar: “I never would have imagined that a day would come when I would have to call my friends to see if they’re dead or alive.”
I had decided not to attend the demonstration because I had a lot of work to do. Also, my family warned me against it. I left home early in the morning and decided to walk with the demonstrators for just a little while, until they reached my office.
But I changed my mind. I went with the demonstration to Dehmazang. There were a lot of people. At first there were not so many women, but little by little the women started to arrive. Students from Kabul University also joined after their exams. I had more than 100 friends among the protesters: university students, high school kids, government employees, clerks in private offices, etc.
When we were close to Dehmazang Square my friend and I decided to get ice cream because it was so hot. I did not pay any attention to the ice cream seller. Maybe it was he who blew himself up.
(Editor’s Note: Reports from sources inside the government say that one of the terrorists hid his explosives inside an ice cream cart.)
We got the ice cream and continued to the square. We waited for half an hour, then I had to leave for work. Around 2:00 p.m. I decided to go get something to eat. I had just started my lunch when I heard a horrible sound.
I yelled “what was that? what happened?” but all of my colleagues were running around. One turned on the TV, another checked Facebook, others started calling family and friends.
I was so shocked I could not feel anything, and my ears were ringing. My phone started to vibrate, and I saw my father’s name on the screen. I answered, but was unable to speak, I was crying so hard. I was finally able to tell him I was in the office.
Then I started going through my address book and calling all my friends. I was using two phones, and all my friends were calling me as well.
Many of my friends’ phones were off. Whenever I heard that recorded message: “The number you have dialed …” my heart would stop. Whenever someone would answer I would start to cry. I just needed to hear their voices, it was enough to know they were alive.
I never would have imagined that a day would come when I would have to call my friends to see if they’re dead or alive.
Asef Yousofy – Another protestor and eye witness says:
I was just a few meters away, on my bicycle. I fell off, but got up very fast. That’s when I saw girls who were close to me faint.
We tried to help them, but it was difficult. Everyone was screaming and running around. The injured were lying on the ground, but no ambulances were coming. All we could do was to try and move some of the injured into the shade.
I saw someone whose head was bleeding; another was bleeding from his eyes. People were covered in blood and crying for help.
Finally some ambulances arrived, but there were not enough. Police arrived as well, and we put as many of the injured in the police cars as we could.
Those few of us who were with the injured were yelling for others to come and help, but no one dared to come close. So we had to pick up the dead and the burned bodies ourselves.
It was a horrific scene, one I never thought that I would witness.
After the injured and the dead had been taken away we were there with the shoes, jackets, burned shreds of clothing, and everywhere there was blood and flesh.
And crying; everyone was crying.
During all of this commotion I lost my ID that was around my neck.
My friend and I then went to Istiqlal hospital to donate blood. When some other friends went to the scene of the attack, they saw my ID and became very worried.
I want to thank all of you who called and texted me to make sure that I was okay.
Zakariya Mosawer, protestor and eyewitness says:
When I left the home yesterday I felt so proud and happy because I also was one of the demonstrators of the Enlighten Movement, who were making their demands in a peaceful, calm, respectful and civilized way. This was a protest not only about TUTAP but against discrimination as well.
I did not sleep at all the night before, just thinking about what was to come. Some of the organizers were saying that we should not have this protest, while the others said, let’s go ahead, and accept whatever happens.
I was walking with the demonstrators, we were chanting many things, like “no to discrimination!” and “we want our rights!” People on the street saw us and joined us — children, students, old men and women. I saw how they were unified, how they all stood shoulder to shoulder.
We continued to Dehmazang. The weather was very hot, and people began to leave. The leaders of the movement were making speeches. We thought that some officials from the National Unity Government would come as well, but that was just a dream.
I saw many women and girls with green bracelets an scarves and shouting “Death to discrimination!” and “We want justice!” We were going to raise a tent and sit in Dehmazang Square when I suddenly heard an explosion.
I fell down. All around me were sounds of people calling for their friends and family. When I got up I saw a lot of dead bodies — I think it was more than 100. I saw some girls and women who were photographing the scene. They were shouting for their colleagues. I heard “Nilofar. where are you?”
Everywhere there was blood. I tried to help the injured.
Since yesterday I am lost. I recite the Quran for Martyrs. During the mourning ceremony I heard survivors saying “We will continue. We will go back out on the streets. ISIS and the Taliban will not stop us. No one can shut us out.”
Mohammad Yousof Shafaee – a demonstrator and eyewitness
It was half past two. I was really hungry, and called a friend to go get something to eat. We left the crowd and started walking towards Kot-e-Sangi. When we were just a few meters away we felt the strong wave of the explosion, and my ears started to ring.
I stood there in shock as people began running around, looking for someplace safe. Some ran towards Kot-e-Sangi, some ran towards small alleys off the square. Everyone was in a panic.
I turned back towards the square, and that is when I saw the dead and injured. As soon as I took a step I heard two more explosions. After that you could hear guns firing.
I started to run. Bullets were falling like hail. Everyone was trying to find a corner to hide in.
I cut down side street towards Darulaman Road. It was horrible; the smoke was thick in the air, and the dead and injured were on the ground. Everyone was searching for their friends.
There were no ambulances, and no one to help. Everyone was screaming and pleading for help, but people were too shocked and confused.
Finally the ambulances came and took the injured to the hospitals — to Istiqlal, Aliabad, Jamhuriat. There were not enough cars for all the injured. Police cars helped, but it was very difficult.
The dead bodies, torn to pieces, remained in the street for such a long time. No one could identify them.
Finally they took those bodies as well, so they could bury them. Cars came one after the other to take people to hospitals to donate blood.