He survived Afghanistan below the Taliban. In Washington, he was shot lifeless

He survived Afghanistan below the Taliban. In Washington, he was shot lifeless

It was three hours to midnight on a scorching Virginia night in early July when Nasrat Ahmadyar returned to the two-bedroom condominium he shared together with his spouse and 4 youngsters. He’d simply completed a recreation of volleyball, however the evening was not over.

Ahmadyar, 31, was struggling to pay hire, behind on his automobile funds, and always preoccupied with the scenario in Afghanistan, the nation he’d fled not two years earlier after the Taliban took over. Had he stayed, he was sure he would have been killed due to the years he spent serving to American particular forces of their lengthy and finally fruitless marketing campaign to cease the hardline Islamist motion from returning to energy.

He settled in Alexandria, Virginia, throughout the Potomac River from Washington DC, and like many Afghans acquired into rideshare driving, after saving up for a down cost on a Toyota Highlander SUV. Mates who’d been within the nation for some time warned him that although the suicide bombings and assassinations the Taliban have been recognized for didn’t occur within the US, different perils existed.

Nasrat Ahmadyar in Washington. {Photograph}: Courtesy Mateen Rahmati

“I informed him, like: ‘Dude, Uber and Lyft just isn’t protected in America,’” remembers Mohammad Ahmadi, a cousin and former interpreter for the US navy in Afghanistan who’s now a truck driver in Texas. However Ahmadyar shrugged off his concern. If anybody wished his automobile, they may have it, he mentioned; insurance coverage would purchase him one other. “However I mentioned: ‘Folks don’t perceive a number of issues, they’re on medication, they’re on alcohol, they’re gonna shoot [you].’”

Again on the condominium, Ahmadyar knowledgeable his spouse, Mezhgan Ahmadyar, that he needed to get to work.

“Aren’t you bored with these late nights?” Mezhgan requested. “Don’t go.” However Nasrat was insistent. “Bye,” he mentioned as he headed out the door. Then, unusually, he caught his head again into the condominium to inform his household: “Watch out. Care for one another.”

Hours later, Mezhgan was woke up by a knock on her door, and opened it to search out two cops. The police informed her Ahmadyar had been shot to demise in Washington DC. His homicide stays unsolved.

Utilizing interviews together with his kinfolk, associates and former colleagues, the Guardian put collectively the story of Nasrat Ahmadyar’s life in Afghanistan and his escape to a rustic the place they believed he can be protected, solely to fall sufferer to its epidemic of gun violence.

When American forces swept into Afghanistan within the wake of the 9/11 assaults, considered one of their first priorities was securing Bagram airfield, a Soviet-constructed facility that quickly turned essential to the US-led battle effort within the nation. It was positioned subsequent to a village known as Gholam Ali, the place Ahmadyar grew up. He was nonetheless a toddler when the People arrived and was raised within the riverside village throughout a time of civil battle between the Taliban and militias who opposed it.

Whereas the Taliban reworked into an insurgency within the countryside, the People constructed up Bagram into a serious base, the place warplanes would fly out on missions, presidents would fly in on visits and the CIA would, for a number of years, torture prisoners. In search of work in Afghanistan’s war-ravaged economic system, Ahmadyar started serving to with building initiatives on the bottom, studying English from the troopers round him.

US soldiers disembark from a helicopter at Bagram airbase in 2002.
US troopers disembark from a helicopter at Bagram airbase in 2002. {Photograph}: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Photographs

Within the years that adopted, he turned a fixture for the military particular forces, also referred to as inexperienced berets, who rotated out and in of Bagram. They known as him “Nas” and relied on his fluency in Pashto and Dari. He, in flip, turned an fanatic of the American tradition he discovered from the navy, remembers Matt Butler, a particular forces firm commander who arrived in Afghanistan in 2009.

“He actually grew up being raised by inexperienced berets, in case you can think about that,” Butler mentioned. “He watched American motion pictures, listened to our music – hell, he was even shopping for protein powder and going to the fitness center and getting big.”

Butler and Ahmadyar fashioned a novel bond. “He was simply barely older than my oldest baby,” Butler mentioned. “I used to be nearer to him than … any of the opposite interpreters I labored with.”

Round that point, Ahmadyar married Mezhgan in a joint ceremony held alongside an older brother and his fiancee. The newlyweds have been cousins who grew up in the identical village and have been engaged after realizing every had their eye on the opposite.

Mezhgan knew Nasrat typically accompanied the troopers on missions the place they’d come below fireplace from the Taliban. “It’s form of harmful. I simply wish to let ,” he would say, however he would additionally inform her to not fear an excessive amount of – these have been well-equipped American troopers.

Within the years that adopted, different Afghans Ahmadyar knew utilized for particular immigrant visas (SIV) that allowed them to maneuver to the US, however he determined to remain, despite the fact that he would obtain threats from the Taliban. Finally, he modified his thoughts and sought out Butler’s assist for a visa.

His software was nonetheless in course of when American troops withdrew, the then president Ashraf Ghani’s authorities collapsed and the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021. As western nations carried out a last-ditch air evacuation from the capital’s airport for his or her residents and allies who now risked retaliation from the Taliban, Ahmadyar tried and didn’t get his household on to a aircraft. When that proved unsuccessful, he was linked with Jeramie Malone, a volunteer in the US who was working with teams trying to get former translators and others in a foreign country.

row of armed troops faces row of residents behind fence
US marines present help throughout an evacuation at Hamid Karzai worldwide airport in Kabul, in August 2021. {Photograph}: Lance Cpl Nicholas Guevara/AP

Speaking over messaging apps, they plotted a approach for him to catch a constitution flight. Ahmadyar, in flip, helped present Malone with data that she used to assist different at-risk Afghans get out.

“He gave me a number of data that allowed us to both direct individuals in the direction of or direct individuals away from areas and journey routes,” Malone mentioned. Although they’d by no means met, Malone constructed up a rapport with Ahmadyar as he bundled his household right into a automobile and headed north from the capital.

Lanky and greater than 6ft tall, Ahmadyar usually stood out in a crowd, and with the Taliban in possession of biometric knowledge collected by the US navy and former Afghan authorities that may have betrayed his collaboration with them, he informed Malone of the terror he felt on the probability of being recognized at a checkpoint.

“I don’t wish to be murdered in entrance of my youngsters,” Malone remembers him saying.

Finally, the household took a flight from the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif to the United Arab Emirates, the place Ahmadyar’s fourth baby, Ali, was born. They waited months for his or her visa to be processed, finally arriving in the US in April 2022.

Beneath the SIV program, the US has admitted greater than 114,000 Afghans who confronted retaliation for his or her work with the navy, in response to the state division. This yr, the advocacy group the Affiliation of Wartime Allies estimated that greater than 360,000 SIV candidates have been awaiting processing, however that on the tempo the federal government was transferring, it could take 31 years to resolve their circumstances.

Upon arriving in the US, a resettlement company discovered Ahmadyar’s household a spot to dwell in Philadelphia, and he was reunited with Rahim Amini, a good friend from Afghanistan who had additionally labored with the US navy and immigrated to the US a yr prior. From Pennsylvania, he would commute to northern Virginia to drive a tow truck with Amini, earlier than returning to his household in Philadelphia. However he didn’t really feel welcome in his new environment.

One time, as he was strolling to select up groceries within the metropolis, a person stopped him and accused him of being an undercover cop, Amini mentioned. Two different instances, youngsters tried to rob him on the road. It acquired dangerous sufficient {that a} neighbor provided to escort him at any time when he would depart his condominium.

Ahmadyar and Rahim Amini in an undated photo.
Ahmadyar and Rahim Amini in an undated picture. {Photograph}: Courtesy Rahim Amini

“It was very troublesome … for Nasrat to take a break to go dwelling as a result of he was driving three hours, typically 4 hours to go go to the household, then come again, and his youngsters weren’t of the age that they’ll clear up their issues,” Amini mentioned. “And he was not protected in Pennsylvania.”

By November 2022, he had relocated to Alexandria, however just a few months later, he give up the tow truck firm after a dispute with administration and began driving for Lyft. Rideshare and supply corporations are frequent employers for newly arrived Afghans, mentioned Janis Shinwari, co-founder of No One Left Behind, a bunch that helps SIV recipients.

However such jobs aren’t with out threat. Shinwari has heard of Afghan drivers who’ve been robbed, had their vehicles stolen, or had intoxicated passengers trash their autos, and find yourself deciding to search out different work.

“They suppose that when as soon as they arrive to the US that they are going to be protected right here. However as soon as they arrive right here and see these [incidents], they suppose: ‘That’s not protected,’” Shinwari mentioned.

Amini and Ahmadyar have been each involved about these left behind in Afghanistan. Ahmadyar was notably apprehensive about his former neighbors in Gholam Ali, his hometown, now caught within the grips of the financial downward spiral Afghanistan has been on ever since western nations minimize off support following the Taliban’s takeover.

The 2 associates would ship no matter cash they may spare again to assist feed and pay for medical take care of individuals they heard wanted assist, with Ahmadyar working additional time to afford the charity.

“I labored eight hours for my very own, then one other 4 hours for the individuals,” Amini remembers him saying.

Malone and Ahmadyar lastly had an opportunity to fulfill after he relocated to Virginia, and so they’d commerce telephone calls and textual content messages usually. “One thing about Nasrat is he all the time had time for associates,” she mentioned.

Ahmadyar additionally had a repute as bother on the volleyball courtroom. He’d bedeviled American troopers in Afghanistan, and even acquired to problem skilled gamers flown in by the USO.

On the afternoon of two July, Ahmadyar headed for a pickup volleyball recreation at a park in Alexandria, and introduced his sons Asem, eight, and Wahdat, 11, alongside. He appeared drained that day, Amini remembers, and so they known as it quits after two matches.

As they parted methods, Ahmadyar informed Amini that he deliberate to do a shift with Lyft as a result of he wanted hire cash. Amini prompt he wait until tomorrow – there was unlikely to be a lot work so late on a Sunday evening. Ahmadyar appeared to agree, and Amini informed him he’d name him early within the morning for the Muslim prayer time.

Amini doesn’t know what made him change his thoughts, however Ahmadyar did exit that night, touring a route that took him to a tree-shaded block of rowhouses and residences within the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Whereas the US as a complete noticed homicides rise practically 30% in 2020, because the pandemic started, knowledge signifies many cities have seen a lower up to now this yr. However in Washington DC, the homicide charge has ticked even greater, with homicides up 37% up to now this yr in contrast with 2022, and car thefts up 106%, in response to the Metropolitan police.

In footage from surveillance cameras shot simply after midnight on 3 July and made public after Ahmadyar’s demise, figures might be seen approaching the rear of a automobile parked on the road with its hazard lights on. A single gunshot is heard, then what look like 4 boys run down an alley beneath the constructing the place the digicam is mounted.

“You simply killed him,” considered one of them might be heard saying. “He was reaching, bro,” one other replies.

A spokesperson for the police division declined to touch upon the investigation. At a neighborhood assembly in late July, the native information weblog Capitol Hill Nook reported a police lieutenant, Araz Alali, mentioned the investigation into Ahmadyar’s demise “is making vital progress and we ought to be anticipating a closure in that imminently”.

Friends and family carry coffin
Family and friends carry the physique of Nasrat Ahmadyar to his grave on 8 July in Fredericksburg, Virginia. {Photograph}: Nathan Howard/AP
Mezhgan Ahmadyar, left, cries at her husband’s grave.
Mezhgan Ahmadyar, left, cries at her husband’s grave. {Photograph}: Mariam Zuhaib/AP

In a press release, Lindsey Appiah, the deputy mayor for public security, mentioned town had “far too many individuals carrying and utilizing unlawful weapons, and too many individuals performing with out accountability for the fear they’re inflicting on our communities. A safer DC is feasible, and our neighborhood agrees the established order just isn’t acceptable.”

Ahmadyar’s demise shattered Mezhgan’s life, and the idea she had that she’d lastly be protected within the US.

“We by no means thought we have been going to lose considered one of our relations right here. We thought right here was completely different. It’s not Afghanistan,” she mentioned via a translator. “I assumed that killing, it’s simply in Afghanistan, not in America. However now, I see it’s no completely different.”

Unable to talk English and immediately alone with 4 youngsters, Mezhgan is attempting to piece collectively how you can maintain her household. She’s contemplating transferring to California and shopping for a home, utilizing cash from a fundraiser Malone arrange on GoFundMe, which has now acquired greater than $500,000. “This could not occur, and it shouldn’t occur to anyone right here. But when there was one individual that completely didn’t deserve one thing like this, it was Nasrat,” Malone mentioned.

Ahmadyar’s youngsters, in the meantime, are struggling to adapt to life with out their father. “For Nasrat’s household, he was chargeable for every thing,” mentioned Mateen Rahmati, a cousin of Ahmadyar who’s internet hosting the household in northern California as they determine their subsequent steps.

Rahmati, too, drives for Lyft, however after his cousin’s homicide and one other good friend’s carjacking, he’s hesitant to get behind the wheel at evening. He’s additionally been serving to with Ahmadyar’s youngsters, who name him when he’s out driving, asking to take them someplace to play.

“I take them to the park, taking part in soccer with them … to maintain them completely happy,” he mentioned.

5 days after Ahmadyar’s demise, mourners gathered for his burial at a Muslim cemetery an hour south of his dwelling in Virginia. His household hopes to get a stone gravestone for his grave, however for now the location is marked by a bit of paper, the place Ahmadyar’s title is written, in English.

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