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The girl who picked up an AK-47 to defend her family

By Kawoon Khamoosh
BBC Persian

When her home was attacked last month, 15-year-old Nooria picked up an AK-47, killing two men and wounding a third.

She was hailed as a hero. But the story behind what happened that night was more complicated.

Did Nooria shoot Taliban attackers, or her husband? Or both?

All names have been changed for safety reasons.

The men came to the village at night, under the cover of darkness.

According to Nooria, it was about 1am when they burst through the front door of her parents’ home. In her bedroom, the teenager, who was woken by the noise, stayed still and quiet. She thought about her 12-year-old brother in his bedroom.

Then she heard the men take her parents outside the small, hillside home. She described the events of that night in an interview with the BBC.

The next thing she heard were gunshots, she said.

“They executed them.”

Nooria had grown up in the small rural village, in a volatile part of Afghanistan. She was an outwardly shy and quietly spoken teenager, but capable of handling guns and firing them accurately – a product of self-defence training by her father from a young age.

That night, instead of hiding, Nooria grabbed her father’s gun – an AK-47 rifle – and opened fire at the men outside. She fired until she was nearly out of bullets, she said.

Eventually, about an hour after they arrived, the men retreated into the night, she said. Outside the house lay five dead bodies: those of her mother and father, an elderly neighbour who was also her relative, and two of the attackers.

“It was horrific,” she said. “They were so cruel. My father was disabled. My mother was innocent. And they just killed them.”

Growing up in Afghanistan, teenagers like Nooria have known nothing but war. The ongoing conflict between pro-government forces and the Taliban, the country’s hard-line insurgent force, has waged for more than 25 years. Pro-government forces control cities and bigger towns, while the Taliban has seized vast remote areas. Villages like Nooria’s are often caught in between.

In her rural province of Ghor, raids by small groups of Taliban fighters targeting pro-government outposts are not uncommon. Nooria and her older step-brother, a military police officer, say their father was targeted by insurgents because he was a tribal elder and pro-government community leader.

But three weeks on, multiple accounts of the attack and the circumstances around it – from Nooria, her older brother, family members of the dead attackers, local police, local elders, Taliban representatives, and the Afghan government – paint starkly differing versions of events.

According to several of the accounts given to the BBC, one of the gunmen that night was Nooria’s husband, and the heroic story of a young girl fending off Taliban militants was in fact mired in a family dispute.

The conflicting accounts threaten to bury the truth of what happened to Nooria, and they reveal something of the tragic reality of life in rural Afghanistan – where young women are often caught up in a culture of tribalism, traditional custom and patriarchy that controls their lives. Like Nooria, they have little power, little access to education, and little say in how or when they are dragged into violence.

We can definitely say child marriage is illegal in Afghanistan and has been a serious challenge in Afghan society. According to AIHRC it is fairly common mainly in rural areas and Human Rights organisations have expressed concerns on number of cases of child marriage in the country with 70 cases registered only in 2019, while most of the cases remain unknown.

The most disputed element of what happened that night concerns the men who came to the house and why they were there. All sides agreed on one thing: that there was an attack in the village in the early hours of that morning.

According to Nooria, the strangers identified themselves as “mujahideen” fighters – a term often used by the Taliban – and they came for her father.

The Taliban denied any involvement in a clash with a teenage girl, but they did confirm there was a raid in the same village that night, saying a local police checkpoint was targeted resulting in two Taliban casualties, but no loss of life.

Local and national Afghan government officials meanwhile declared victory over a “massive” Taliban attack and proclaimed Nooria “a true hero”.

As Nooria and her younger brother were airlifted out of their district by military helicopter and swept to a local safehouse, social media exploded with the story of the young girl who had taken up arms in self-defence.

It is not uncommon in Afghanistan for civilians to be praised by the president for defeating Taliban attacks. But when President Ashraf Ghani invited Nooria to the capital Kabul, reactions were mixed.

Some said she was a hero. Others said she was an innocent child caught between two warring sides – attacked by one, used as a PR stunt by the other.

“Can’t understand how in a country whose people have seen enough death and violence to know the value of life and peace, can such glorify violence and praise take up arms,” wrote one Twitter user. “Violence is not a response to violence!”

Another called Nooria a “symbol of Afghan women who succeeded to defend her life”.

“There are many Afghan victims who couldn’t do anything. They are suffering the pain of wounds they have because of holy war by Taliban.”

At the scene of the attack the following day, local police discovered identity cards on the bodies of the two dead men. They were both known Taliban supporters, officers told the BBC.

A third man who was injured but escaped was a high-ranking Taliban commander called Sayed Massoum Kamran, police said.

The BBC was able to independently confirm the identity of the two dead men, who were in their late 20s and dressed in traditional Afghan attire, loose-fitting trousers and colourful waistcoats, their shirts now soaked through with blood.

And sources close to the Taliban said the commander named by police and alleged to have fled was indeed currently injured, but the sources would not confirm when or where he was hurt.

The local Taliban sources also confirmed that one of the men at the scene was previously affiliated with their network in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, several years ago.

As Nooria and her 12-year-old brother arrived in the capital at the president’s behest, the case of their parents’ murder looked tragic but straightforward.

Then a week after the attack, reports began to circulate that one of the dead attackers was not simply an unknown fighter on a routine raid, but was in fact Nooria’s husband.

Family members and local sources told the BBC that Nooria’s husband, Rahim, came to the village intent on reclaiming his bride after a family dispute had led her father to take her home. The sources said the husband had become affiliated with the Taliban and came to the house with Taliban militants.

The man they identified as Nooria’s husband was one of the men found dead that night.

Nooria denies they were ever married.

According to others, Nooria was part of a “mokhi” deal – an exchange of two female relatives for marriage between two families. Child marriage is illegal in Afghanistan but human rights organisations say it remains common in rural areas like Ghor, where girls can be bartered into agreements like the one described in Nooria’s case.

Under the agreement, Rahim would take Nooria as his second wife while Nooria’s father would marry Rahim’s teenage niece as his second wife. However, since both the girls were still so young, it was agreed they would wait several years before making the marriage official.

Verifying the truth behind a story like this in rural Afghanistan is not easy. Nooria’s village sits in a wide expanse of farmland, surrounded by steep mountains. Just to get a phone signal, villagers must trek to the top of a nearby hillside.

In order to establish whether Rahim was indeed Nooria’s husband, the BBC tracked down his mother, Shafiqa, who lives in Nimruz province, south-west Afghanistan, with her son’s first wife and their two children. Speaking down the phone from Nimruz, Shafiqa confirmed that her son married Nooria three years ago as part of an exchange, and that her other granddaughter, Rahim’s niece, had also wed Nooria’s father.

But she said that less than two years ago, while Rahim was working in Helmand, Nooria’s father unexpectedly arrived at her house and took back his daughter, leaving his new wife, Rahim’s niece, behind. Effectively nullifying the exchange, she said.

An Afghan girl was hailed as a hero, but her story was more complicated than it first looked.

AK-47 Shooting tour in Moscow

Designed to be cheap and reliable, simple to operate and produce, the first model of the AK-47 was introduced to the Soviet army in 1948 and to this day, Kalashnikov remains the world’s most widely used assault rifle. The weapon has proven hugely popular with soldiers, criminals and militants due to its durability and reliability.

– Some 200 different types of AK-47 are now produced in at least 30 countries.

– 200 million Kalashnikov rifles in circulation worldwide, one for every 35 people.

Book the AK-47 Shooting tour and take a unique chance to shoot legendary AK-47 in the Russian premier shooting gallery.

The AK-47 Shooting tour begins with the safety briefing, basics, and techniques of firing. Then you will be offered 3 types of weapon with live ammunition. Besides, you will try three types of bullets, and based on the experience you will be able to go further and undergo full shooting training. The 8-lesson course will allow you to gradually learn how to manipulate and fire the weapon to the highest of its ability. Classes are taught by professional shooters with direct experience in the military field.

Here the list of the available firearms:

– a 7.62mm AK-47 modernized (AKM)

– a semi-automatic 9mm pistol Makarov (PM)

– a 7.62mm semi-automatic sniper rifle Dragunov (SVD)

Price of the AK-47 shooting tour:
1 PAX – 13,200 rub
2 PAX – 9,000 rub per person
3 PAX – 7,800 rub per person
4 PAX – 7,250 rub per person
5 PAX or more – 6,800 rub per person

Price of the AK-47 shooting tour includes:

1. Shooting:
– a 7.62mm AK-47 modernized (AKM) – 20 rounds
– a semi-automatic 9mm pistol Makarov (PM) – 20 rounds
– a 7.62mm semi-automatic sniper rifle Dragunov (SVD) – 10 rounds
2. Rent of the shooting point and targets
3. Instructor’s service
4. Personal protective equipment (glasses and headphones)
5. Transfer to the shooting gallery

The price of the 8-lesson course: from 60000 rub

The schedule of military tours in March – May 2021:

1. Ride on a replica of the German JagdPanther tank destroyer (from 11,500 rub per person).
(Moscow): March 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29
April 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26
May 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31

2. Ride on a replica of the newest Russian tank T-14 ARMATA (from 20,500 rub per person). The tour is also includes a visit to the museum of military vehicles, 10 blank shots of AK-47, assembling/disassembling of AK-47, and military lunch.
(Moscow): March 7, 22 at 11:30 and 14:30
April 4, 19 at 11:30 and 14:30
May 2, 9 at 11:30 and 14:30

3. Ride on the replica of the self-propelled gun “Gromada” (18,500 rub per person).
(Moscow): March 1 at 11:30
April 5 at 11:30
May 3 at 11:30

MAKS air show has traditionally hosted the most significant flight programmes in the world both in terms of the number of aircraft in the sky and the total duration of flights, and of course, Maks Air Show will not be an exception.

Experience an unforgettable adventure, a tank driving tour. Take a ride in a T-62, T-80, an Armoured personnel carrier, an Infantry fighting vehicle, or a Combat Reconnaissance Patrol Vehicle.

We are happy to offer you a unique historical tour “Battle of Moscow”. You will be able to ride an authentic T-34-76 tank, shoot 4 types of historical weapons and have a great chance to try on a uniform of the Soviet army.

FireTag: AKM Blank Firing and LaserTag. Only in Russia! Noise, Flash and Shell ejection! Experience a whole new level of military tactical gaming based on the MILES simulation technology.

During the Patriot Park and Kubinka tank museum tour, you will be walking among the numerous military vehicles in the company of our knowledgeable guide, who will reveal the hidden history of Park’s exhibits.

On the Monino Aviation Museum tour, you will see the military aircraft of the early 20th century and WWII, supersonic jet aircraft, and the largest helicopter ever built.

The cheapest, but still impressive tank ride in Moscow. Tourists are offered to ride a replica of German Tank Destroyer Jagdpanther of 1943. A 8-km route passes through the rough terrain. The exciting journey takes 25-35 minutes.

We found the way how to ride a modern Russian tank without breaking any bans. We offer you to ride a replica of the most modern Russian tank T-14 ARMATA.

Annually, teams from over 20 countries are taking part in the Tank biathlon. The teams will show their skills in driving, shooting and overcoming insidious obstacles.

Tour to the International Military-Technical Forum «ARMY-2021». Over 300 pieces of military equipment! Military show and aerobatic performances. June-July, 2021.

Here comes the absolutely most awesome experience you can try in Russia. Piloting, formation flight, aerobatic maneuvers, authentic military airfield… Become a part of the Russian aerobatic team “Russ” and fly L-39 Albatros.

Always dreamed of being a pilot of a fighter jet? Or just curious about what is like to be in the pilot’s seat and control a 20-ton flying vehicle? We offer you to make your dream come true with a 30 minute SU-27 fighter jet flight simulator.

Novosibirsk tank tour will take you through the time and will remain an everlasting memory of your exciting journey to the heart of Siberia.

On the Saint Petersburg Military tour, you will be able to ride and drive armoured vehicles, learn about WWII and the Russian army, practice disassembly and assembly of the legendary AK-47, shoot firearms and visit historical bunkers.

Irkutsk tank tour is an awesome and unforgettable experience in the Baikal region. Though this area was not a place of severe battles of World War II, several powerful tanks have been recreated there. We’ve yet to see anyone walk away without the biggest smile!

Book the AK-47 Shooting tour and take a unique chance to shoot legendary AK-47 in the Russian premier shooting gallery. AKM, PM, SVD and other weapons