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Afghan Victims of Terror Attack Forgotten by Almost Everyone — Including Taliban Perpetrators

Mohammad Mohammady was among five Afghanis killed in Kabul's Park Palace Hotel attack this week, but the focus has largely remained on foreign victims.
Photo by Allauddin Khan/AP

No matter where he was, Mohammad Mohammady always managed to leave an impression of a man much older than his 27 years.

In a society where age trumps youth, Mohammady possessed an innate ability to win the respect of everyone from senior colleagues, high-powered political officials and even local elders.

His colleagues at ActionAid, a nongovernmental organization that aims to reduce poverty and promote human rights in more than 45 countries, attribute Mohammady's ability to win over even the most ardent of cynics, to his determination.

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"He had worked hard to build himself up and advance within ActionAid," Andrew Wieteacha, project manager for the group's REALISE agriculture resilience project, told VICE News.

Colleagues watched as Mohammady worked his way up step-by-step from administrative work in Kabul to overseeing a sustainable agriculture project in the northern province of Balkh, where he was able to build relationships that provided the group with greater access to local communities, said Wieteacha.

Mohammady seemed to have his whole life in front of him when he checked into the Park Palace Hotel and Guesthouse in Kabul last week.

Two other colleagues who had also travelled to the Afghan capital for training on watershed management and water harvesting joined him in the hotel.

Having housed their staff — both foreign and local — in the hotel several times in the past, ActionAid had little reason to worry about leaving their local staff in a guesthouse frequented by foreigners.

But all that changed on the evening of May 13, when Mohammady and his colleague, Dr Jawid Ahmad Sahai, 36, along with 12 others were shot dead by a Taliban gunman.

Related: Foreigners Targeted as 14 Killed in Kabul Guesthouse Attack

The gunman, identified in a Taliban statement as Mohammad Idrees, opened fire on a garden party, killing 14 people that evening. Mohammady and Sahai were among five slain Afghans. Nearly three days later, they remain the only Afghan victims to be identified by name.

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While the foreign victims — nearly all of whom have been identified — became the focus of both local and foreign reports of the attack, the Afghan victims have been relegated to the status of being "among the dead."

Even a Twitter account purportedly linked to the Taliban failed to recognize the locals killed.

"Attack targeted around 100 foreigners most US citizens as they were holding meeting inside, killing & wounding nearly half," tweeted Abdulqahar Balkhi.

The lack of media attention on the Afghan victims of an attack perpetrated in Afghanistan's capital was not lost on the nation's small, but active social media scene.

Wieteacha said he could not be certain why his slain colleagues have yet to receive the same media attention as the foreigners killed, but that their deaths are a serious blow to the nation's humanitarian community.

According to the Agency Coordinating Body of Afghan Relief and Development, Mohammady and Sahai were among seven humanitarian workers killed in the Wednesday evening attack.

In a statement issued shortly after the shootings, Amnesty International called the killings, "a stark reminder of the Taliban's contempt for human life… amid a worrying new surge in the armed group's targeting of civilians around the country."

Despite ActionAid's salute to Mohammady and Sahai, the Taliban likely did not see the men, or their foreign counterparts, as humanitarians, let alone civilians.

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Related: Taliban, Helped by Foreign Fighters, Makes Inroads in Kunduz

In a series of online statements made Wednesday evening, the Taliban said that "Every foreigner from invading country especially NATO is considered an invader, we don't classify any as civilian." Continuing its longstanding rhetoric, the group labeled Afghans working with foreigners, including aid workers, as "hirelings."

Since the US-led invasion that led to the Taliban's ouster from political power in 2001, the group has led a violent armed opposition against the Kabul government. The Taliban said the latest attack on the guesthouse was intended as a warning specifically to foreign nations who fund and support the central government.

"The occupying forces should realize that they are not safe from our attacks under any cover or in any location," the Taliban statement, which made no mention of slain Afghans, read. "We have pinpointed the location precisely and found out the exact time of the event."

Abul Naser, a resident of Kolola Poshta, the neighborhood where the Park Palace is located, said whether the Taliban acknowledges it or not, it is ordinary Afghans who overwhelmingly pay the price of the group's terror operations, regardless of whether it is in fact targeting the government or foreigners.

"When they attack foreigners they also kill Afghans," Abdul Naser told VICE News. "Why, why are you killing our own people?"

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According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the first four months of 2015 have already seen a record number of civilian casualties, with nearly 3,000 killed and injured. Those figures represent a 16 percent increase from the same period last year.

Although ActionAid's efforts in the northern province of Balkh, where both Mohammady and Sahai were based, will be greatly affected by the men's deaths, Wieteacha said he wants both to be remembered for who they were, not just what they did.

"Age never played a factor with [Mohammady], he always listening to other people," Wieteacha told VICE News. "It was his patience and kindness that made Mohammady so easy to work with."

Wieteacha said he was also close with Sahai, with whom he would periodically travel to the provinces with. It would be Sahai's stories about his family, including anecdotes of his 4-year-old daughter, that Wieteacha would miss most, he said.

"He was more than a hard worker, more than a dedicated humanitarian," he said. "He was also a father and a husband. His family was paramount to him."

Related: Phantom troops, Taliban fighting, and Wasted Money — It's Springtime in Afghanistan

Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye