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Former Afghan footballer died ‘falling from US plane’ while trying to flee Kabul

Zaki Anwari was one of thousands of Afghans who flocked to Kabul’s airport to escape the Taliban

Sam Hancock
Thursday 19 August 2021 19:10
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Afghanistan: Crowds scale jet bridge at Kabul airport in desperate bid to escape Taliban

A 19-year-old boy has been named as one of the people who died while trying to flee Afghanistan by climbing onto a departing US military plane.

Zaki Anwari was a former Afghan national youth team footballer who, according to his Facebook profile, lived in Kabul and was once a student at the city’s Esteghlal High School.

Despite the circumstances surrounding his death still being unclear, Afghan officials say Zaki died after falling from the C-17 aircraft while it was in the air.

Conflicting reports, originating from a local journalist, suggest the teenager died in the plane’s landing gear, but this has not yet been confirmed.

“It is with great sadness that Zaki Anwari, one of the players of the national junior football team of the country, died in a bad accident,” Afghanistan’s general directorate of physical education and sports said in a Facebook post.

“The late Anwari – among hundreds of young people who wanted to leave the country – fell down in an accident from the air … [he] fell down and lost his life.”

“May he rest in heaven and pray to God for his family, friends and sports colleagues,” the government organisation added.

Zaki was one of thousands of Afghans who flocked to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday – the day after the Taliban captured the capital city – hoping to secure a seat on a plane out of the country.

When the situation became desperate, though, he reportedly climbed onto the US aircraft moments before it departed.

Harrowing footage filmed from the runway that day, which quickly went viral, showed hundreds of desperate Afghans chasing a US air force plane while some attempted to climb onto its wheels and the undersides of its wings.

All were hoping to flee the city as it became overrun by militant Taliban forces, who have now taken control of the airport’s perimeter and are reportedly making it hard for some Afghans to leave.

Friends and fans of Zaki paid tribute to the talented footballer on social media.

“Tears don't keep me safe!” wrote Elias Niazi in a Facebook post. “Zaki Anwari, the valuable star of the national youth football team of the country, has died in the Kabul airfield accident.

“His close ones say that Zaki intended to go to America to have a better life, which unfortunately lost his life in the chaos of Kabul airfield.”

Another message read: “Comrade, with whom I had the most unforgettable memories, his loss is a great sorrow for me and unspeakable.”

In a statement this week, the US air force said that a C-17 aircraft landed at Kabul’s airport on Monday and was surrounded by hundreds of Afghan civilians.

“Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible,” the statement said.

It added that the air force’s Office of Special Investigation was reviewing information about the aircraft and the “loss of civilian lives – to include video documentation and the source of social media posts”.

Meanwhile an unnamed US official was quoted by The Washington Post as saying stowaways falling from the sky “absolutely happened” during the incident, with the report adding: “It is believed that [there] were Afghans who climbed aboard the landing gear and attempted to stow away as the plane took off.”

Kabul’s airport has fast become the epicentre for the unravelling Afghan refugee crisis after borders and roads were shuttered by Taliban insurgents, making it the only safe route out for fleeing civilians.

A striking image, which emerged on Tuesday, showed 640 people packed onto a C-17 Globemaster III plane, headed for the US.

It was later reported that this was among the highest number of people to ever be carried in such an aircraft at one time.

Meanwhile, photos coming out of Afghanistan continue to show hundreds of people sat on Kabul airport’s runway, awaiting what they hope will be a safe and permanent passage out of the country.

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