The Story of Acid Attack on Journalist

My Outlook op-ed on Jan 31

The prominent Afghan journalist Razaq Mamoon was attacked with acid on his face on January 17 near his house in Macroryan district of Kabul. It was a shock to the journalist community in Afghanistan. Fortunately, Mamoon’s eyes were safe because of his thick glasses. But he got severe injuries on face. He is a famous journalist of the country. President Karzai condemned the attack and managed for Mamoon to get an urgent visa and sent him to India for treatment.

Soon after the incident, Mamoon accused Iran of being behind the attack due to his critical writing about the Iranian role in internal affairs of Afghanistan. His recent book, “Footprint of Pharaoh” is also strongly critical of Iran. There is no doubt that the attack is politically motivated due to Mamoon’s writings. But this case seems to be getting vague.

A man named Khwaja Abdul Rafi was arrested two days after the incident by police. Talking to media, he has “confessed” to the attack confirming Mamoon’s accusation of Iran behind the incident. But still the official police interrogators says they have not found any evidence of foreign country’s involvement in the attack. Isn’t it strange? When the accused in custody talks on camera in front of media saying Iran “forced him to do”, officials still say something different. Why the vague twist?

According to the story Rafi has told media, three people, two with Iranian accent, had met him in pick-up a week before the attack asking to spray acid on face of Mamoon. Rafi further said that the three people kept saying him for the spray for few days. On January 16, a day before the attack, the three men had asked Rafi where his spouse, reportedly named Zahra Musavi and children were. Rafi says he was told his wife and children were at home of Najibullah Kabul, a staunch anti-Iran former MP and owner of Imrooz TV which was banned by the Government due to its controversial programming causing public clash on religious sectarian affairs.

Here the story is very vague. Why Najeebullah Kabuli is involved in this? If Iranians are involved, it would make sense if we assume that bringing name of Najeebullah Kabuli might be part of the plot to attack Kabuli with involving his name in the incident. There has not been any personal spat between Mamoon and Kabuli. Both are strong critics of Iranian negative role in Afghanistan. But it is very obvious that Najeebullah Kabuli remains a target of the Iranians because of his anti-Iran programs on TV. Kabuli was also leading some of the anti-Iran protest demonstrations recently in Kabul against the blockade of fuel tankers on Iranian borders. Some were saying that the ban on Imrooz TV by the Government accusing the station of causing public disharmony through sectarian sensitive commentaries was under the Iranian pressure. I have no doubt on that. However, I have watched the TV, its programs in which Kabuli himself would comment, was very critical of Iran. But the Government accusation of spreading sectarian disharmony had also some facts. There were some sensitive programs which could provoke public discord and violence regarding religious sectarian issues. I was not unhappy with the ban, and hoped it would make Kabuli to realize the sensitivity of sectarian issues in our country. However, Rafi saying that the three persons had informed about his wife and children being with Kabuli which he found to be true later when he went home on January 16, is confusing. Rafi says the final threat from the three was, “if you don’t throw acid at Mamoon, we will behead your children and kill your wife.” And then he decided to do what the three persons were asking—throwing acid on Mamoon’s face to burn his eyes. Rafi’s face is also slightly burnt, while he was talking to media on camera. Reportedly he had thrown little acid on his own face to escape suspicion. Does it make sense? Not to me! Throwing acid on his own face won’t make him escape suspicion, it would rather make a proof he has thrown the acid. Rafi says he was under surveillance, that’s why could not risk lives of his wife and children by seeking help from police. But his last comment is very confusing. When Rafi said to media that Iran was behind the incident, he also added that Iran didn’t want an affair between Mamoon and his wife. Yes, he said Iran doesn’t want his wife to have an affair with Mamoon. Listening to all the confusing “confessions” of Rafi, it seems very vague.

Rafi’s wife had worked together with Mamoon for a TV and Radio Liberty nine years ago. And she also visited the journalist in hospital after the acid attack. Reportedly she had cried after seeing Mamoon’s face burnt. It connects the dots with Rafi’s claim about the affair of his wife. However, he said Iran doesn’t want that.

An audio conversation has been posted online by a blogger two days ago. The blogger says the interviewee is Aalim, father of Rafi. Aalim makes another story out of this all. He says wife of Rafi had affair with the prominent journalist. And Rafi could not tolerate it and attacked with acid. However, he also adds that Rafi’s face was burnt by Mamoon’s “supporters” with his own acid after the attack. This blogger is not a journalist and seems to be particularly interested in the story. Why Aalim doesn’t come to media and accuse all that? Zahra Musavi visiting Mamoon and crying for his burnt face suggests there are some things unclear to this incident.

Mamoon while talking to media said he had been receiving threats after his recent book, critical of Iran, was published. Even the publisher was offered huge cash by some people to cancel the print of book, Mamoon claimed while accusing Iran for the acid attack.

The official investigations must take into account the claims of Rafi about his wife and talk to Zahra as well as the supposed Aalim, if he is a true name. The reasons behind this incident should be clear. I doubt the officials will shy away from an investigation result if it involved Iran in the incident. They would prefer to suppress the story. We want to know the facts behind. There can be both sides of the story, truth about Mamoon’s accusation of Iran as well as the fact of affair with Zahra. It is possible that both stories are part of the same bigger picture. Secret agencies of regional countries work in this way. If they want to punish someone, they will find a motivation for someone else to carry out their plan. And it is possible that the affair story is true, which has motivated Rafi to become an easy tool for Iranian agents to carry out the attack. It can also be possible that Iran is not involved at all; stories are made, for Rafi to hide his dishonor with the possible fact that his wife has an affair, and for the journalist to escape public disgrace for the affair. The official investigation must go to all sides of the story, despite the fact that the journalist is a prominent writer and Government has sent him abroad for treatment. Justice must be carried, and if there is involvement of Iran, it must be made public, with other realities of this story.

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