Amid a Horrific Scene, Tearsby KERRI MACDONALD, lens.blogs.nytimes.com
December 7th 2011
Massoud Hossaini has never cried like this before.
His photograph of a young Shiite woman, bloody and screaming, made the front page of The New York Times this morning. It also appeared on the front page of The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, which ran a variation of the photo. Mr. Hossaini was one of the few photographers at the scene in Kabul, Afghanistan, following a series of coordinated bombings on Tuesday, which also struck the cities of Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif, killing at least 63 Shiite worshipers.
Mr. Hossaini was photographing young Afghan Shiites during a procession for Ashura, which marks the death of Shiite Islam’s holiest martyr. Some of those he had photographed recognized him. The 30-year-old photographer, who is Shiite himself, remembered seeing some of them smile.
Then, everything changed.
He heard a large explosion behind him. He was thrown to the ground. When he could focus, he stood up. He saw that his left hand was bleeding, but he didn’t have time to think about it. Mr. Hossaini ran — against the crowd, most of whom were running away from the smoke — and reached the scene about 10 seconds after the blast. The smoke began to clear, but he still had trouble concentrating.
He realized he was amid a circle of bodies, almost exactly at the place where the explosion had happened. He saw a few pairs of eyes moving, but body parts were scattered on the floor. His hands were shaking. Having covered Afghanistan — the place where he was born — since 2004, Mr. Hossaini has seen suicide attacks before. In 2007, he photographed an attack that killed 70 civilians. He cried then, too.
But this time was different.
“I have never experienced that before,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Kabul.
Mr. Hossaini was focused on what he was seeing and hearing: shouting voices, sounds of confusion. A few other people began to approach the circle. Some tried to pick up bodies. “I was taking pictures and I did want to help,” he said. “But I just saw that the bodies were completely destroyed and I said, ‘O.K. I can’t do anything for them, so I have to wait for whoever comes.’”
Behind him, he noticed a group of women and children. One woman stood on the corner, covered in blood. “Women were asking me, ‘Help, help, help,’” Mr. Hossaini said. “I couldn’t. I was recording and I was taking pictures.” One of the women who was holding a baby, called out for help — her other child had died. Another man lifted the child from the ground. But blood was pouring from its head. The man placed the child back on the ground and walked away.
As Mr. Hossaini photographed, he realized he was weeping. When he looked down, he realized how badly his own hand was bleeding. He wrapped it with the cleanest piece of material he could find. No one around him could think straight. People were yelling, “Allah Hu Akbar,” which means, “God be praised.”
“Death to Al Qaeda,” he heard them say.
When an ambulance arrived and the staff inside saw the circle of bodies, they were also at loss for words. They began piling bodies in the back of a vehicle.
Shortly after, a few young people arrived. They began targeting Mr. Hossaini, angrily forcing him out of the circle of bodies. “They thought I was foreign,” he said. A few minutes later, bleeding and depressed, Mr. Hossaini decided to go back to the office to file his pictures and videos. He called his brother, Hamid, a doctor, who treated his hand.
As he filed, he couldn’t stop crying. He sent most of the pictures without editing them. But he stopped when he saw the picture of the girl screaming, her hands open at her sides, her white pants splattered with blood, the sunlight on her face. He had noticed the woman in green — a color worn as a sign of remembrance — before the explosion, during the ceremony. He had planned to return to her after he took some pictures of the men.
“With the blood and tension, she didn’t know what she was doing,” he said.
After filing his images, he cried all the way home. He kept crying, hard.
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