ACHIN, Afghanistan – Nearly five years ago, Rahman Gul, a poor, middle-aged Afghan villager in the eastern province of Nangarhar, became a symbol of the atrocities the ultra-radical Islamic State militants (IS) had begun inflicting on Afghans.
In a video released by the group then controlling large parts of Iraq and Syria, Gul and seven other bound and blindfolded Afghans were shown being humiliated by militants. They were forced to confess to crimes that locals in their Achin district said they had never committed.
In one of the worst atrocities captured on camera during Afghanistan’s four-decade-long war, they were then forced to sit on bombs and were blown to pieces. In the propaganda video released in August 2015, IS claimed they were apostates.
But Gul’s widow says her husband was a practicing Muslim, a good husband, and a loving father who worked hard to look after their three sons and two daughters. Although IS has been routed out of Nangarhar and controls little territory in the mountainous region, she is still traumatized and reluctant to give her name, fearing reprisals.
“I try to make ends meet by collecting dry straw from the mountains and then selling it,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “But sometimes, we don’t have anything.”
Razmina, her 7-year-old daughter, still hopes her father will somehow return.
“I still look at the door of our house in the hopes that he will come back,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “It has been five years and still nothing,” added Razmina, who goes by one name only. “People have repeatedly told us that Daesh has even taped his killing [but I don’t want to give up hope],” she said while referring to IS by its Arabic-language acronym.
"Why is Daesh so cruel?" asked Shalahuddin, who was 9 years old in 2015. His shopkeeper father, Younas, was killed alongside Gul in 2015.
"My father was innocent. He was not associated with the Taliban or the government and was completely innocent," Shalahuddin told Radio Free Afghanistan in 2015.
Despite government and Taliban claims of finishing off IS, the group continues to claim devastating attacks in Afghanistan. More than 20 members of Afghanistan’s minority Sikh community were killed in a March 25 attack on a gurdwara in the capital, Kabul. IS said its members carried out the attack.
Earlier this month, Afghanistan refused to hand over captured IS leader Aslam Farooqi to Pakistan because the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
Afghan officials say Farooqi, a nom de guerre for Abdullah Orakzai, a Pakistani national, was arrested in the southern province of Nangarhar on April 4.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Shahar Gul Amirzai from Achin, Afghanistan.