'I dream about that day. I try not to but it keeps coming back': Tarana Akhbari, the girl in the 2011 Afghan bombing photograph

The photo won a Pulitzer. But what of the victims of the blast?


The image was shocking and haunting, summing up the suffering and despair of Afghanistan’s brutal war: a young girl in a green shalwar kameez standing alone amid the bloody carnage of a suicide bombing, her mouth open in a scream. Around her lay dead bodies, seven of them close members of her family, including that of her nine year old brother.

Seventy people were killed in the blast carried out by a group linked to al-Qai’da in December two years ago.  The victims were worshippers gathered at a Shia shrine in Kabul. It was first major sectarian attack in the country. The photo taken of Tarana Akbari won the Pullitzer prize. For a little while she was presented by the Afghan government and international agencies as the symbol of the innocents targeted by insurgents, promises were made that she and her family would receive all the help they needed.

Tarana, now 13, and surviving members of her family are living in poverty in a run-down neighbourhood of the capital. She limps, her injuries make it difficult for her to walk far. Two of her sisters were also injured. Fifteen year old Sunita, who was hit with shrapnel on her head, can no longer attend school. Surita, six, had to spent 40 days in hospital and lost one of her kidneys. She bears terrible scars covering her stomach and has pains in her legs which were also badly cut and she needs urgent treatment.

“I have knocked on a hundred doors to get help, but no one does anything, I do not really know where else I can go” said their 35 year old father Ahmed Shah Akbari. “I pull a cart all day, I get about 300 Afghanis ($ 6) I cannot afford to pay for medicine and operations after I had fed the family. A lot of big people came to be seen with my daughters after the bombing, but they are not interested.”

The family say the treatment offered by free clinics they have been to have been ineffective, building up hope among the girls that they would get better, only to be disappointed. Things were different in the aftermath of the attack, when they did receive attention, they say. Sunita was taken to Turkey for life saving surgery, but such access has long ceased.
Tarana, whose arms and legs bears the marks of laceration, said “After the bombing I thought I would be a doctor and help people. I still want to do that, but now I see it is all about money. It is very hard for poor people to get the services they need and that is not right. I know they used my photograph in the newspapers, they said it was all over the world. But that is not helping my family now and it has not helped other people in the same situation.

“But I suppose we are lucky that we are alive. We lost aunts, cousins. It is Shoaib I think about all the time. We used to play togethe, I used to look after him. After the bomb I saw him lying on pavement, he was still alive. He was trying to breath and there was blood coming out of his mouth and nose. I dream about that day, I try not to, but it keeps coming back.

“My mother still cries all the time. The other day she found a pair of new shoes which had been bought for him and he was going to be given after Ashura. He never got to wear them, she was very upset, she is finding it very difficult.”

“I feel angry about what happened, very angry. How could someone blow themselves up to kill other people? I feel angry at the people who sent him. They have sent other men like him, we have seen many dead here because of these bombings.”

A Pakistani Sunni group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack. It had also declared carrying out other sectarian attacks inside Pakistan, murdering 29 Shias in Baluchistan after taking them off a bus and an attack on an Ashura procession in Karachi which killed 30 people. The group had bases inside Afghanistan during Taliban rule and has been accused of sending other suicide bombers across the border in recent years.

The man who carried out the Ashura attack had tried to get into the shrine saying he was an organiser for the ceremony, but had been stopped by a watchman. The aim would have been to destroy a venerated Shia place of pilgrimage. Having failed in that, he decided to go for the families outside.

Sunita said: “I was watching him because he was behaving strangely. He was quite young with a thin beard. His hair looked wet as if he had just washed himself. He sat down and then there was the explosion. That was the last thing I remember and then when I woke up there was very bad pain everywhere.”

Tarana was the only member of the family to attend the Ashura ceremony last November; the Afghan police announced they had arrested two men who were plotting to attack the ceremony.

She chose to wear a Salwar of the same green as at the time of the attack. “I thought doing that would show that we are not afraid” she said. “I also thought it would remind people of the picture and remind them of people who have been hurt by the bombs. So I went there and afterwards I went to pray at the graves of my brother and other members of the family. I felt very sad.”

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine