May 28, 2020 / 4:07 AM / 2 months ago

Backstory: In Afghanistan, covering the death of Hope

KABUL (Reuters) - In the morning, the gunmen burst into the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul disguised as police. They killed 24 people, including 16 women and two newborn babies.

FILE PHOTO: File photo of Afghan security forces standing guard outside the Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital which came under attack in Kabul, Afghanistan May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo

No group claimed responsibility for the May 12 massacre.

Those were the facts that could be quickly established.

But the horrific brutality of the assault on the maternity ward shook Afghanistan – a nation that has seen decades of militant violence – and it shook the Reuters journalists who set out to tell a fuller story of the lives that had been lost and shattered.

Reuters Television Producer Sayed Hassib heard of the attack from a relative, and, after checking with police, quickly sought clearance from inhouse security experts to send a team to the site, the usual protocol in such cases.

Cameraman Mohammad Akram, who was one of the first journalists at the hospital, reported back that there was heavy firing between security forces and the gunmen and that many women and children were inside.

“I told the cameraman to stay away from the hospital and take cover behind any cement wall or barrier,” Hassib said.

Reporters Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Hamid Shalizi, at home because of the coronavirus restrictions, worked the phones, talking to police and witnesses. Sediqi said he asked his family to keep his young son, niece and nephew away as he worked.

“From the first minute that I understood that the victims included children, there was not a single second that my (son) Abdullah was not in my mind’s eye,” he said.

Later, reporter Orooj Hakimi got in touch with a woman who survived the attack. She called her late in the evening, introduced herself and asked her to tell her story.  Zahra Muhammadi told her how she had seen her four-hours old grandson killed in the attack. The boy’s name was Omid, meaning “hope” in Dari.

Orooj cried as she spoke to Zahra. “I  was saying: I am so sorry. I can sense your pain,” Hakimi said. “I am here to listen to you.”

Photographer Omar Sobhani, who has worked for Reuters for 18 years in Kabul and covered hundreds of attacks, went the next day to a hospital where the surviving babies who had lost their mothers were taken.

“I saw these children lying on the bed, doctors and nurses feeding them,” he said. “These newborns, they didn’t even know who they are – Muslim, Christian, Sunni, or Shia - and they are faced with such a brutal act.”

You can read Reuters' main story on the attack with Omar’s photographs here

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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