Before dawn on Thursday November 24, Bahara* heard a gunshot from outside the walls of her courtyard in Daikundi province. Her 14-year old son Mahdi was already up to prepare for school and for morning prayer ablutions. Bahara walked outside to the courtyard to check on him. It was still dark and she heard a man’s voice.
“Who are you? I asked,” Bahara says.
A deep voice told her to come outside the gate.
Bahara was terrified. She spun on her heel back to her mud-brick home and closed the wooden door, running to wake her husband, Mohammad Alam. She shook him awake and and told him armed men are outside the house. He jolted awake, snapping his eyes open.
There had been nothing unusual the night before when Mahdi and his father had brought the flour home from the mill. They could not understand why there were armed Taliban outside.
“I had not even seen a Talib up close yet,” Bahara tells Rukhshana Media in a phone interview. “I never thought that 200 of them would come to attack our mud home. People say there were about 25 Rangers vehicles and two tanks,” she adds.
Gunshots rang out again as the faint sun was rising from behind the distant mountains. Some bullets seem to be fired over the house, and others strike it. When they hit, it rattles the roof and mud walls, shaking dirt onto their heads. The shots continued throughout the morning.
The family of three were trapped inside. There was no chance for Bahara, Mohammad Alam, or Mahdi – an only child – to escape.
“I said to my husband to save our child. I went to start digging a hole under the house to hide Mahdi there and keep him alive,” she says.
Bahara spent the day digging a hole into a makeshift well. Only a week earlier, a light snow had covered the village. The same biting winter wind blew through the house and between the wall seams. On any other day, Bahara would have been collecting firewood and heated the house as the day wore on. But on that day, they had not even dared to open the gate to the street.
“I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t heat the tandoor, the bread wasn’t baked,” she says. “Bullets just kept raining down.”
As the daylight began to fade, they heard more gunshots being fired in their tiny village of Shibar Sewak. It seems like the fight is getting more intense.
Mohammad Alam believed they had come for him, and that if he could escape, his wife and child would be spared. He plotted his escape and decided to try to leave under the cover of darkness. But they were ready for him, surrounded. As soon as Mohammad Alam slipped out of the gate, gunshots rang out and struck him. He fell to the ground, unmoving.
With the gate of the house open, the Taliban fighters moved in and walked through the front door. It was dark. Bahara does not know how many men came inside.
Realising that her husband had been killed, she ran towards her child. Mahdi was hiding in the shallow well dug by her.
A Taliban fighter talking in Pashto pointed to the well. Bahara did not understand everything that was said but she understood the finger point. Bahara, shouting in Dari, pleaded with the Taliban forces to not harm her child who is there. Then everything suddenly went black.
Bahara believes she was struck with the butt of a gun on the back of her head.
“I was unconscious from about 5:00PM to 9:00PM,” she says.
When she opened her eyes in the darkness, the men were gone. She crawled to the well where she discovers Mahdi, slumped and lifeless. She bursts into tears, dragging him out of the hole and takes him into her arms. She rocked him as tears poured down her face, holding him like when he was a baby and she soothed his cries.
She says she moaned in pain and lost consciousness many times in that solitude of her grief. Holding onto Mahdi’s body as her husband Mohammad Alam’s body lies at the gate, his blood freezing over in the cold night.
At some point, several Taliban forces returned to her house while Bahara is still holding the bloody body of Mahdi. One of them stuck a knife into Mohammad Alam.
“They stabbed a knife into my husband’s body to know if he was alive,” she says. “They were chatting in Pashto. I only understood that they were saying, ‘All of them are dead’.”
In the morning, when Bahara eventually makes it outside the gate, she sees the carnage outside. The body of her neighbor and a tribal elder, Aminullah Mali, is lying slaughtered on his roof.
“His head was left upside down, and blood was dripping from his head,” she says.
In front of him, she sees Ibrahim’s body, Mr. Mali’s nephew. His feet had been cut from the ankles and separated from his body. His body is riddled with bullet holes.
“If you see the photos of dead bodies,” she says. “His feet are separate from his body, that’s visible from the sheet on him”
Some reports say the Taliban fighters who attacked Shibar Sewak killed nine people, others say 11.
At least four children were killed in the incident, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
The Taliban says the victims were “rebels”.
UNAMA said it is investigating and takes these killings very seriously. Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur for human rights of the United Nations for Afghanistan, has called for an independent and transparent investigation into the deaths.
Bahara walked from house to house shouting and asking for help to collect and bury the bodies of her family. She says that some Taliban fighters lingered, and some seemed to tease her, putting their knife on the chest the corpses as though they would cut out the heart. She shouted at them, begging them to stop.
Finally, when the sun was already up on Friday November 25, at around 9:30 in the morning some women from the village helped Bahar gather her husband and son’s bodies and take them to Sher Mohammad’s house, who had also been killed the night before.
There wasn’t a man left alive in Shibar Sewak village. Of those who survived the massacre, four have been arrested and taken away, and one other person, Yunus Tawakoli, has disappeared. A woman was also wounded in the attack.
Eventually, around 1:00PM, men from nearby villages, including Pashtrou and Bali Oyer, gathered one by one to help bury the bodies of the victims.
The only survivors in Shibar Sewak after that hellish night are all women, and children under the age of 14. Bahara is one of them, but with both her husband and only child killed, she is almost destroyed herself. In her brief interview with Rukhshana Media she repeats over and over again, “Please help me!”
According to two of the sources who spoke to Rukhshana Media, a sub-tribal conflict is partly to blame for the Taliban’s atrocities. Those sources believe the Taliban were guided by other local residents. These sources requested that their identities be preserved due to security concerns.
Another two sources allege that some of the men who were killed were involved in one of the people’s uprisings at the end of the Ghani government. But after the Taliban takeover, they did not belong to any armed group or guerilla movement.
Several people declined to comment when approached by Rukhshana Media, out of fear of reprisals. They say the Taliban have interrogated and beaten people who talk to the media several times in the past 15 months.
**Names have been changed on personal request.
People uprising group were actually the ordinary Afghans, apart from the Afghan Local Police and Afghan National Army. They had their contribution to fighting against the Taliban at the end of Ghani’s administration.
They were being paid by the government and Afghans abroad to resist the Taliban.
There were people uprisings in several parts of the country, especially in North and Central Afghanistan.