Afghans are commemorating the 15th anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Masud, the revered Northern Alliance leader and anti-Taliban commander who was assassinated ahead of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and other late defenders of Afghanistan.
Hundreds of supporters took to the streets of Kabul on September 8 to mark the start of Martyrs Week, a government-sponsored remembrance of Masud and others who died during three decades of conflict, including the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and Taliban rule in the 1990s, before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 installed a UN-backed government.
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other government dignitaries assembled in the Afghan capital to pay their respects to fallen fighters, laying a wreath at the Resistance Monument in Kabul.
Abdullah forged a close bond with Masud, who hailed from the country's ethnic Tajik community, and Abdullah became Masud's right-hand man during the devastating civil war and under the Taliban regime.
Abdullah was flanked by senior government officials, including Ahmad Zia Masud, a presidential envoy and brother of Masud.
WATCH: Afghanistan honored anti-Taliban hero Ahmad Shah Masud on September 8 as the country marked the start of Martyrs Week. (RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan)
In a statement on September 8, the Afghan senate said: "The martyrs of the last three decades of war in Afghanistan whose number reach millions sacrificed themselves in defending their religion, honor, and the freedom of Afghanistan."
A convoy of vehicles -- many of them displaying images of Masud and carrying men with assault rifles -- snaked through Kabul. The government has warned citizens against celebratory gunfire, which killed and injured several people during celebrations last year.
"I wish that the days that we commemorate the martyrdom of Afghans should be changed into the days of solidarity and harmony and this week should be named the unity and harmony week," said Ahmad Wali Masud, Masud's son and the chairman of the Masud Foundation.
'The Lion Of Panjshir'
Masud was conferred the title of "national hero of Afghanistan" following his death at the hands of Al-Qaeda suicide bombers posing as a television crew in the northern Afghan province of Takhar.
His assassination came days before Al-Qaeda hijackers attacked multiple U.S. targets -- including both towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon -- with four passenger airplanes on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people, apparently as part of Al-Qaeda's effort to complicate any military response to the 9/11 attacks.
Weeks later, on October 7, NATO and other international forces invaded Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and many of the terrorist group's fighters were based.
Masud enjoyed a reputation as a warrior, earning him the moniker "The Lion of Panjshir." He was as polarizing as he was charismatic, having earned friends and enemies while establishing himself as a successful mujahedin commander during the Soviet occupation and later as a leader of the Northern Alliance, which was fighting the fledgling Taliban.
By 2001, Masud was considered the last bulwark against the Taliban. From Afghanistan's northeastern provinces, including his stronghold in the Panjshir Valley, Masud commanded an estimated 12,000 troops and controlled between five and 10 percent of the country.
Fears Of Violence
Security was tightened around Kabul ahead of this year's celebrations, which came amid escalating tensions among the country's long-warring ethnic and factional groups.
The funeral ceremony for a controversial former Afghan monarch turned violent in Kabul on September 1, with at least three people killed when militiamen affiliated with First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former ethnic Uzbek militia leader, fired on mourners, many of them ethnic Tajiks.
Despite the precautions ahead of Martyrs Week, one person was killed and three injured in an explosion in Kabul. No group claimed responsibility for the blast.
Kabul has witnessed a string of deadly attacks in recent weeks. On September 5, 41 people were killed and over 100 others wounded in a series of explosions that rocked the city.