TO PROTECT, TO SERVE: Brave Police Officer Holds Suicide Bomber Down, Dies In Blast
By ROD NORDLAND and FAHIM ABED
NO one will ever know what went through the mind of Afghan Police Lt. Sayed Basam Pacha in those moments when he came face to face with a man he suspected of being a suicide bomber on Thursday afternoon, but whatever it was, he did not hesitate to act.
At his back was a crowd of civilians, many of them dignitaries, leaving the hall he was guarding. Around him were officers from the police company he commanded. The suspect had just approached their heavily guarded gate, the only way in or out of the compound around the hall.
Broad-shouldered and heavily muscled, Lieutenant Pacha shouted at the suspect to halt, but instead the man started running. The officer stopped him, throwing his arms around him in a bear hug.
A second later the bomber detonated the explosive vest hidden under his coat. Fourteen people, including Lieutenant Pacha and seven other police officers as well as six civilians, were killed; 18 others were wounded, seven police and 11 civilians, said Basir Mujahed, a police spokesman.
There was little doubt the death toll would have been far higher without the lieutenant’s body blunting the blast, Mr. Mujahed said.
“He’s a hero, he saved many lives,” he said. “All seven of those policemen are heroes but especially him. Just think if that suicide attacker got past the gate, what would have happened — you cannot even imagine.”
Lieutenant Pacha’s father, Gen. Sayed Nizam Agha, is also a police commander.
“My son sacrificed himself to save other people,” General Agha said, proud but tearful when reached by telephone. He wept as he recounted his son’s story.
“He had two bachelor degrees, one in political science and another one at the police academy,” the father said. “He studied five years in Turkey. He came back from Turkey a year and a half ago. He was 25 years old and he was single. He has three brothers and one sister. He and I are the only police in our family. He was a very sporty guy.”
Weight lifting was his sport, his friends said.
The general apologized and said he could not keep talking any longer; he was too overcome with emotion. He had one last thing to say though.
“I lost my bodyguard in this incident as well,” the general said.
He had assigned the bodyguard to assist his son at the event, which many high-profile political figures were attending. “He was my bodyguard for the last 15 years, he was like my son,” General Agha said. “His name was Noor Agha, he left three children behind.”
Two journalists for Rah-e-Farda Radio and Television were also caught up in the attack, said an anchorman at the station, Ramazan Abdullahzada. A reporter, Taqi Sadid, was in critical condition and a cameraman, Hussain Nazari, was missing, he said.
“We checked all the private hospitals and public hospitals, but couldn’t find him,” Mr. Abdullahzada said. “Now we are in front of the police hospital. I hope he will be here.”
Although only on police duty in Kabul for a year and a half, Lieutenant Pacha had already received a commendation from his superiors, which he displayed proudly on his Facebook page. His current post was commander of the Second Company, Police District 4 in Kabul, which includes the Khairkhana area where the attack took place.
The lieutenant never expected to die, friends said, although the profession of Afghan police officer has become increasingly perilous. Dozens of officers were killed in five Taliban attacks Monday and Tuesday.
“He was always worried about victims, but he never thought that one day he would get killed,” said his longtime friend, Sayed Najib Asil, a producer at Tolo Television.
If the lieutenant had a chance in the final moments of his life to look back on it, Mr. Asil said what would have stood out was his passion for higher education — he wanted to continue advanced studies in Britain — and his determination to stay in Afghanistan long-term.
“He wanted to make changes here, he had an opportunity to leave and go live abroad, but he rejected it,” Mr. Asil said. “He really hated corruption, and felt bad when people assumed that all policemen are corrupt.”
Lieutenant Pacha was not someone who would have faced death fatalistically, as his friends told it.
“He had very big dreams for himself,” Mr. Asil said. “He wanted to be a general like his father, and maybe one day a high ministry official.”
The characteristic his friends most noted, though, was his cheerfulness. Every week or two he and his friends had a party together. “He was always the cheeriest guy in the party, making everyone else happy,” Mr. Asil said.
The Islamic State in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a post on Twitter by the Terror Monitor organization. It was the latest in a series of suicide attacks by the group in Kabul. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said his group did not carry it out.
If Lieutenant Pacha had been less conscientious, he might have missed the attack altogether.
The hall had been rented for a political meeting by supporters of Atta Muhammad Noor, the governor of the northern Balkh Province, said Tahir Qadiry, an aide to the governor. Governor Noor has been in a protracted dispute with the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
During the long afternoon event, Lieutenant Pacha had gone into the hall to drink tea with some of the guests, but then said he wanted to return to the gate as people started to leave, a witness said.
The owner of the hall told him to finish his tea, but he said he had to check on his men, according to the witness. Lieutenant Pacha returned just as the suicide bomber arrived; people saw him challenge and then bear hug the attacker.
Mr. Asil said his friend’s split-second decision was to be expected. “I wasn’t surprised when I heard he had hugged the suicide attacker,” he said. “He was a very brave guy.”
CREDIT: The New York Times