Saidali Haidari, a shopkeeper in Kabul, set money from his modest income aside for many years for his dream wedding. That dream came true when he married his long-time fiancée this week -- but it quickly turned into a nightmare.
The couple threw a banquet for dozens of friends and family in Kabul’s trendy Asayesh wedding hall and paid for a convoy of flower-covered cars to take the newlyweds and their guests home safely.
But tragedy struck as the wedding convoy left the venue in the early hours of July 16 when gunfire erupted, killing the 24-year-old bride, Jamila Qambari, and a guest.
Four others, including Haidari’s father, were wounded in the shooting in the Sar-e Karez neighborhood in western Kabul.
The incident occurred near the private residence of Mohammad Mohaqiq, the deputy chief executive in Afghanistan's power-sharing government. Haidari’s family accuses Mohaqiq's security guards of opening fire on the convoy, while Mohaqiq's office says it was the convoy doing the shooting.
Police, who are suggesting that the incident was prompted by celebratory gunfire, have arrested four men and say a probe is under way to determine who is responsible for the deaths and injuries.
For the heartbroken Haidari, that much is clear: he is pleading with the Afghan authorities to punish Mohaqiq’s security guards.
Haidari says that as the wedding convoy passed Mohaqiq’s residence, the lead car carrying him, his wife, and four other family members came under fire.
The bride, Qambari, who worked as an obstetrician, died of her wounds on the way to the hospital.
Haidari says “eight or nine bullets hit her body.”
"My father is in coma in hospital, and three children -- my nephews and nieces who were with us on the car -- are also injured," Haidari says, speaking from a modest home he had renovated just before the wedding.
The bedroom is still decorated with flowers, colorful new curtains, and matching pillows, with wedding gifts placed around the couple's marital bed -- in keeping with local tradition.
“I can’t enter this room now, everything has lost its meaning without her,” says Haidari.
Mohaqiq’s office has issued a statement offering condolences for the deaths and saying that two security guards stationed outside his house on the night of the shooting were “immediately” handed over to police.
But the statement's version of events is different from the bridegroom’s account. It describes a “wedding convoy, with irresponsible armed individuals amidst them, firing and disrupting security in the area as they moved from the wedding site towards...Mohaqiq’s home.”
The statement claims that gunfire intensified as the convoy reached Mohaqiq’s home and alleges that “the irresponsible armed individuals” fired towards the security post outside the residence.
“A bride was killed and several others were wounded during the gunfire,” the statement says, with no mention of whether the security guards fired any shot.
The statement says the media published “incorrect” reports in covering the event and calls for a thorough investigation.
Kabul police say the four men in their custody -- two security guards and two wedding guests -- were all armed on the night of the shooting.
Police spokesman Basir Mujahid said that the two wedding guests sparked the incident with celebratory gunfire.
Once a commonplace tradition across Afghanistan, firing into the air during weddings, parties, and other celebrations has been banned in Kabul in recent years amid complaints by local residents.
The bridegroom’s family rejects the claims of the celebratory gunfire, but says there was loud music playing inside the vehicles.
The fatal shooting comes as Kabul is on high alert amid increasing militant attacks on government compounds and security forces, among others. In December, a politician’s home in the capital was attacked by the Taliban, and six people were killed before police arrived.
The groom, Haidari, says his life “has come to an abrupt halt.”
“We were planning a picnic for the next day after the wedding,” Haidari says. Instead he is hosting a funeral for his bride.