As armed men rampaged through an Afghan hospital on Tuesday, shooting dead mothers and babies, a group of pregnant women hid in a room with one of them about to give birth.
“The mother was in pain but was trying not to make any sound,” said a midwife who helped deliver the baby girl and sever the umbilical cord with her bare hands.
“She even put her finger in the newborn baby’s mouth to stop her from crying,” the woman told the AFP news agency by phone on Friday, her voice still shaking three days after the attack.
The raid in the maternity ward of Kabul’s Barchi National Hospital left 24 people dead, including newborns, mothers and nurses.
There were 26 mothers in the hospital on the morning gunmen posing as members of the Afghan security forces burst in, said the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity, which runs the maternity ward.
Eleven of them were killed during the hours-long attack, including three in a delivery room with their newborn babies. Five others were wounded.
At least six babies lost their mothers in an attack that sparked international outrage.
Another 10 sheltered in “safe rooms”, which are common in Afghanistan and are often armoured to protect the occupants from gunfire or rockets.
Women gave birth during attack
The midwife, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, also rushed to one of the safe rooms when the emergency siren went off.
As she and some of the women huddled inside, they could hear gunshots as the attackers went from room to room throughout the hospital.
Then one of the women began to give birth.
“We helped her with our bare hands, we had nothing else in the room except some toilet paper and our scarves,” the midwife said.
“When the baby was born, we cut the umbilical cord using our hands. We used our headscarves to wrap the baby and the mother.”
As the terrified women tried to stay quiet, they could hear the gunmen outside asking them to open the door. “But we knew they were not [security force members],” she said.
Three gunmen were later killed by Afghan security forces.
After the attack, 18 babies were taken to another hospital for treatment – some of them carried from the scene by heavily armed soldiers.
No group has claimed the attack, but the United States has blamed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) for it.