On 6th December 2011, I attended the ‘Ashura’ in Kabul, a Shia commemoration of the day Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad who, along with 72 followers was murdered in Kerbala, Iraq. I had been warned not to attend by someone in the security services - I went all the same.
I had been photographing for an hour, when a colleague I was working with decided he wanted to leave. Minutes after we had jumped in our car, a suicide bomber detonated by the Abu Fazl Mosque in the Murad Khane neighbourhood. Though a photographer who was there at the time, won a Pulitzer for their images of that atrocity, I feel fortunate to have left minutes before the attack. I had been just meters away from where the explosion took place.
It is hard to imagine, but there is no official death toll, numbers ranging from 50, up to around 90. Most news organisations mostly reported that ’At Least 70’ had perished. I returned to the scene as the last bodies were being removed, and witnessed why death tolls in these cases are hard to determine - bits of charred flesh decorated the surroundings, tiny pieces of people who seconds before were celebrating, whole families wiped off the face of the earth.
Many theories exist as to the perpetrators, from an Iranian state sponsored attack on their own, hoping to precipitate a sectarian war similar to that in Iraq, to the Pakistan Taliban, the traditional Sunni versus Shia conflict. I don’t suppose it really matters for the family that lost seven children.
These were the images I took of the Ashura self-flagellation commemoration, minutes before the deadly attack.