In a brave gesture of defiance against suicide bombers, Afghanistan’s “girl-in-green” on Saturday revisited the scene of a Shiite Muslim holy-day massacre that made her image world famous.
Tarana Akbari, now 13, was pictured screaming in horror among piles of bodies moments after a suicide bomber killed 80 people at last year’s Ashura day ceremonies at a Shiite shrine in Kabul.
On Saturday, dressed in an identical green satin tunic which she made herself after discarding the bloodstained one she wore last year, Tarana attended Ashura day ceremonies at the same shrine.
The day before, police announced that they had arrested two Taliban insurgents with suicide vests who planned to attack the Shiite worshippers.
“I’m not scared,” Tarana told AFP as she sat with her sisters in their spartan home in Old Kabul ahead of the ceremony. “I know there will be danger but I will go back there anyway.
“After the shrine I will go to the graveyard to pray for my brother who died and other members of the family.”
Tarana’s only brother — aged nine — was among many of her relatives killed in last year’s blast, and Tarana and her two sisters were wounded. She was the only one of the children who went back.
Despite her brave words, Tarana wrung her hands anxiously and the mood in her home was more one of preparing to go into battle than attend a religious ceremony.
But her spirits lifted and her shy smile returned with the excitement of dressing up in her new clothes before she set out hand-in-hand with her father, Ahmad Shah, for the 10-minute walk to the shrine.
It is a place that haunts her nightmares.
“I go back to that place in my dreams. I see my brother and the man (the bomber). I always repeat that scene in my dreams,” Tarana said.
Security was tight, with many streets blocked off and heavily armed police on rooftops and along the approach roads, and even Tarana was frisked before being allowed into the ceremonies.
Once among the throng of worshippers, including young men whipping their bare backs into a bloody mess in a traditional mourning ritual, Tarana’s step faltered and she and her father stopped in a small sheltered spot.
A plastic chair was found and she sat quietly, tension showing in her face and her brown eyes growing increasingly sad with each passing minute.
After half an hour, she and her father, having shown their refusal to be cowed by suicide bombers, left to visit the graves of her brother and other relatives on a bare and bleak hillside overlooking the city.
When the Sunni Muslim Taliban ruled in the 1990s before being ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001, minority Shiites suffered brutal persecution, but sectarian violence has been rare in recent years.
Shiites, who make up roughly 20 percent of the Afghan population, were effectively banned from marking Ashura in public under the Taliban.
Ashura commemorates the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad, near Karbala by armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.