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Violence during Muharram ceremonies in Kabul

While events around the country took place largely peacefully, uniformed Taliban were recorded violently breaking up events in the capital.


7 Aug 2023

Image: Afghan Witness. Muharram in Kabul, August 2022.

Note: In addition to incidents in Kabul, there were clashes around Muharram events in Ghazni that resulted in the deaths of at least two young boys, with several verifiable videos relating to the events. AW is currently investigating and producing a report on the incident.  


On July 18, 2023, the spokesperson for the Kabul Police, Khalid Zadran, posted a message claiming that “two different committees have been established for the better security of the religious ceremonies of the Shiite compatriots in the month of Muharram.” In the following week, on July 26, Zadran added that security matters had been “determined in collusion with the committees (security institutions and representatives of Shiites)”.


Despite Zadran’s public assurances to provide a safe environment for the Ashura commemorations, several videos surfaced online showing uniformed Taliban acting violently towards civilians participating in the events.  


Events on July 26 

On July 26, Afghanistan International and BBC Persian shared a video recorded from higher ground, possibly a window of a building, showing Taliban fighters confronting a group of people participating in Ashura events.  


At the start of the BBC clip, filmed from a vantage point on the south side of Shaheed Mazari road, a crowd can be seen gathered around a group carrying a large red flag along the road westwards. As the camera pans left – towards the East – armed Taliban fighters, some in full protective clothing, advance towards the crowd, swinging their weapons.  


The Taliban continue to advance, barging into and breaking up a group of people self-flagellating that were following the flag bearers, as a vehicle follows and accelerates towards the crowd to disperse them.  


The figure below shows screenshots from the recordings. The white Taliban vehicle can be seen driving toward the crowd to disperse them (left), and three armed Taliban are seen advancing towards the civilians swinging their weapons at them (right).

Figure: Taliban vehicle driving in the direction of the crowd to disperse them (left), and three armed 

Taliban advancing towards the civilians swinging their weapons (right). [34.500240, 69.071753] 


Other footage, shot from ground level appears to show the same incident. AW investigators verified that they were filmed just a few metres from each other, and an analysis of the size of the shadows cast indicates that the events took place at around the same time. 


Despite evidence of the Taliban using weapons against the population, no gunfire was heard in the footage shared online on July 26. 


In another [WARNING: GRAPHIC] video posted by a social media user on July 26, it was possible to see a Taliban fighter in full protective gear swiping civilians with a stick as they walked by. The footage, allegedly recorded in Kabul, showed the Taliban member hitting at least four men participating in the ceremony, although they do not appear significantly injured by the strikes.  


Events on the day of Ashura 

On July 28, the day of Ashura, Afghanistan International and Chashm News, a small organisation reporting Afghan news, shared videos recorded at the same location on the Shaheed Mazari road in Dasht-e-Barchi, showing crowds dispersed through gunfire. The caption of the videos implied that Taliban fighters were responsible for the gunfire. However, verifying the origin of the shooting in the videos was not possible. 


On the same day, Shiite women, who did not participate in the commemorations on previous days, marched the streets. A video posted by Alisher Shahir, a correspondent for the Independent Persian, showed a large group of women walking together during Ashura in Kabul. A Taliban vehicle with 

Kabul police officers can be seen driving next to the women. However, there is no intervention.   


KabulNow, a Kabul news agency part of Etilaatroz, claimed in a news article that the “Taliban disconnected telecommunication networks in the western part of Kabul as residents mourn the day of Ashura". Although KabulNow did not specify which police districts were affected by the measure, it is relevant to point out that the incidents of Taliban violence against the Shiite population took place in Police District 13 in western Kabul. 


Despite various videos showing the Taliban’s violence against crowds, Zadran issued a statement on X (formerly Twitter) which read, “The 10th of Muharram passed in an atmosphere of peace like the previous days with the help of Almighty.“ Unlike his previous posts regarding security measures for the Ashura ceremonies, this message was written in English, possibly with an anglophone audience in mind. 

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