Helpless in an explosion’s wake

May 28, 2013

Kabul, Afghanistan

By Omar Sobhani

Last Friday was a public holiday here in Afghanistan but I was on call and had gone for lunch in Kabul with my friends. Our relaxing day was interrupted by a huge explosion.

It took little time to figure out what was going on. As on most days, working or not, I carry my cameras so I jumped in my car and rushed towards the noise. My colleague Mohammad Ismail, who was enjoying a day off also, heard the explosion and called me as I headed towards the scene saying that he was coming to help cover the story. I spoke to my text and TV colleagues at Reuters bureau although the sound of the attack was too loud to hear easily but they were well aware of the incident.

As a safety measure I kept colleagues in the bureau informed of our plans and movements.

I left my car with my friend, put on my protective gear and continued on foot as the police had blocked all roads in the area. These kinds of incidents are not new to us and we are well practiced in how to react. We work with safety in mind and coordinate with our Kabul bureau. While shooting pictures I assessed the situation around every second and moved ahead cautiously.

Police stopped me several times as I walked, to check my IDs but let me continue once they were confident I was not a suspicious person. I was the first photographer at the explosion site and I positioned myself in a safe position, using a long lens to take pictures. When some of the policemen carried wounded comrades towards me I used a wide lens. Before long I started hearing shooting and realized that it was not just an explosion and I guessed some attackers had gone inside the building.

Police started pushing us away and I moved several blocks away to an even more secure location.

I was sure I had some decent pictures and needed to edit and file. Kabul doesn’t have enough mobile bandwidth internet so we have to go back to our office to file. The attack was still underway and I didn’t want to leave. Nobody had any idea what might happen next. By now my colleague Ismail was on the other side of the attack area but we decided to stay put to keep an eye out until it was clearer where this was headed.

Reuters Afghanistan chief photographer, Ahmad Masood, who is based in Delhi, was on holiday in Kabul and went to our office to help edit and file our pictures. I sent the pictures I had shot with our driver Ishaq to the bureau. This put us more than two hours ahead of the competition and took a load off my mind. It was good team work.

It may sound easy but it is difficult to work when these incidents happen. I am a father of five children and when I took pictures of the children screaming and running away in total shock, it made me really sad and helpless. But in the end the children were safe.

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