Hours after gunmen on Tuesday stormed a maternity clinic in Kabul and killed two dozen people, including women and babies, Feroza Omar rushed to another hospital where about 20 babies who survived the attack had been transferred.
When she arrived at Ataturk Hospital, the 27-year-old did something many deemed heroic. In a span of three hours, Feroza breastfed four of the orphaned newborns.
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“I thought to myself that these babies need their mothers, but they were killed in the attack, so I will play the role of a mother, hug them and feed them,” she told Al Jazeera.
Feroza was breastfeeding her four-month-old boy at home when she heard about the attack on the maternity section of the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Afghanistan’s capital. She said she felt the urge to do something for those babies “to comfort them”.
“When I hugged them, I didn’t feel like they were someone else’s babies. I felt I am feeding my own child. The terrorists have not even spared babies of this country who just opened their eyes onto this world,” she said.
I salute Feroza Younis Omar, an Afghan mother, breastfeeding 20 babies after gunmen slaughtered new moms, nurses & two newborn babies, even as some gave birth.
Feroza’s act of love has encouraged other moms to come volunteer breastfeeding these newborns left without mothers. pic.twitter.com/M9qUz2mBIq
— Nahanni Fontaine (@NahanniFontaine) May 14, 2020
In 2017, Feroza lost her 33-year-old brother – a father of two – who she said was killed by the Taliban on his birthday.
“I know the pain as a victim of this war in Afghanistan; I know how it feels to lose your beloved ones,” she said.
Feroza inspired other Afghan women who joined the effort to care for and breastfeed the babies. Aziza Kermani, also based in Kabul, was one of them.
“I am ready to adopt one of the babies who have lost their mother or whose families do not have the financial ability to raise them,” Kermani told Afghanistan news station, TOLOnews.
No group has claimed responsibility for the assault that shocked the country. In all, 24 people were killed, including 16 women and two newborns.
In a statement, Frederic Boonot, Doctors Without Borders’ head of programmes in Afghanistan, described the gruesome details of the attack.
“They came to kill the mothers,” he said, describing how the attackers ignored other sections of the hospital and deliberately went to the maternity clinic.
“They went through the rooms, shooting women in their beds. It was methodical.”
At the time of the attack, 26 new mothers and mothers-to-be were in the maternity clinic, according to the charity.
Three women were killed in the delivery room, and eight were killed in their hospital beds. One gave birth as the attack was ongoing.
“It’s shocking. We know this area has suffered attacks in the past, but no one could believe they would attack a maternity [ward],” Bonnet said.
Accompanied by her teenage daughter, Ali Yawar’s wife was also at Dasht-e-Barchi hospital to vaccinate her son, who had been born there a month ago.
When the attack started, Yawar’s wife held her son and ran to the waiting room to get 16-year-old Amina, but she found her covered in blood.
Amina had been shot dead by the attackers.
“The security forces rushed her to a hospital, but she had died on the spot. When I heard about my daughter, it felt like my world had collapsed,” Yawar told Al Jazeera.
“They attacked a place full of woman and children, what else is left? There is no humanity left in this country. These are testing times for us; we are forced to face this.”
The Taliban has denied involvement in Tuesday’s attack. On the same day, the ISIL (ISIS) armed group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a funeral in Nangarhar province that killed scores of people.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the military to switch to “offensive mode” against the Taliban, but US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad blamed ISIL for both attacks, saying on Twitter the group had opposed any peace agreement with the Taliban.
Rather than falling into the ISIS trap and delay peace or create obstacles, Afghans must come together to crush this menace and pursue a historic peace opportunity. No more excuses. Afghans, and the world, deserve better.
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) May 14, 2020
On February 29, the US and the Taliban signed a deal that called for a phased US troop withdrawal from the country, and for a prisoner exchange between the Afghan government and the Taliban to set the stage for intra-Afghan talks.
The talks, originally scheduled for March 10, have yet to take place because of delays in the prisoner exchange and a political feud between Ghani and rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah over last year’s disputed presidential election.
But on Friday, Ghani’s spokesman Sediqi Sediqqi said a political agreement had been reached and would be signed in the near future.
For Yawar, such political agreements mean little.
“Nothing can replace my daughter,” he said. “This war broke my back, and of many poor people in this country.”