Dec. 1 — Abdul Hamid is tall, thin and barefoot in a filthy black tunic. A prisoner of the Northern Alliance, he sits with his elbows bound behind his back with a strip of cloth, his right leg and left foot bandaged for gunshot wounds. Hamid’s face is almost entirely covered in dirt and black soot, but it is quickly apparent that he is not just another beaten and frightened Taliban warrior. Abdul Hamid, age 20, is an American. He is not a naturalized citizen or disaffected Arab-American youth rebelling against Western culture. He is a white, educated-sounding, apparently middle-class American, a convert to Islam who came to Afghanistan six months ago to help the Taliban build a “true Islamic state.”
HAMID IS ONE OF ONLY 86 survivors of a vicious, four-day battle in the Northern Afghan fortress of Kala Jangi. He refused to give more than the scantiest details about his U.S. origins, including his real name. But while waiting to be taken into detention along with over a dozen other wounded men, mostly Arabs, in a large cargo truck, Hamid talked to a NEWSWEEK reporter about why he came to Afghanistan and how he survived the nightmarish battle of Kala Jangi.
InsertArt(1283793)He said he was originally from the Washington, D.C., area, but indicated he grew up elsewhere in the states. Well spoken, with a mid-Atlantic accent, Hamid said that he converted to Islam at 16 and later went to Pakistan to study the Koran. “In my travels, I came in contact with some of the original teachers of the leaders of the Taliban movement,” he said. “The ideas of the Taliban occupied my mind a lot.” Six months ago, he entered Afghanistan “to help the Islamic government” because “the Taliban are the only government that actually provides Islamic law.”
When asked if he supported the September 11 attacks, he hesitated. “That requires a pretty long and complicated explanation. I haven’t eaten for two or three days, and my mind is not really in shape to give you a coherent answer.” When pressed, he said, “Yes, I supported it.”
Despite his confused state, Hamid also gave NEWSWEEK what may be the most complete account to date of the prisoners’ uprising on Sunday morning, Nov. 25, and the horrific final three days after the end of the battle. Hamid said he had been fighting with the Taliban during the two-week siege of the city of Konduz, about 100 miles to the east of Mazar e Sharif. Finally, under a negotiated deal, the foreign Taliban forces surrendered to the Northern Alliance forces of Gen. Rashid Dostum. But almost as soon as Hamid and about 500 others were taken to the fortress. “Two of the [Taliban] threw grenades they had hidden in their clothes, and killed a couple of people,” Hamid says.
“After that they put us in the basement and left us over night. Early in the morning, they began taking us out, slowly, one-by-one, into the compound. Our hands were tied, and they were beating and kicking some of us. Some of the Mujahedin [Taliban] were scared, crying. They thought we were all going to be killed.
“I saw two Americans there. They were taking pictures with a digital camera and a video camera. They were there for interrogating us. As soon as the last of us was taken out of the basement, someone either pulled a knife, or threw a grenade at the guards, and got their guns, and started shooting. I don’t really know how it happened. As soon as I heard the shooting and the screaming, I jumped up and ran about one or two meters, and was shot in the leg. It’s not as bad as you would think, but after that I was down in the basement.”
The Americans were CIA agents Mike Spann and another called Dave. Spann was badly beaten, possibly to death, and then shot by the prisoners. Dave and local Red Cross doctors were able to escape with the help of a team of U.S. Special forces. Then, said Hamid, “they hit us with everything they had. The Americans were bombing us. It was horrible. Nearly everyone in the basement was wounded.”
After Tuesday, all resistance above ground stopped. Alliance soldiers poured diesel fuel into the basement and lit it, assuming that any remaining Taliban would be killed by the fire and the fumes. But when workers on Thursday went into the basement of a pink, one story building in the center of the compound to take bodies out, they ran into as many as 100 Taliban, mostly wounded, still alive in the cells. Two of the workers were wounded, and a third was abducted or shot.
The Alliance then spent Thursday afternoon dropping large artillery rockets into the basement and setting them off with fuses. “It was horrible,” said Hamid. “But the rockets were exploding in the hallway of the basement, and we were all hiding in the cells. The stairway was just a pile of rubble, and there were parts of bodies all over.” Still they survived, with no food or water.
Finally, on Friday, Alliance troops flooded the basement with water. “We spent the night in the freezing cold water,” said Hamid “Those who could stand up survived, but there were a lot of wounded who couldn’t stand, and they drowned. Most of the dead down there drowned yesterday. At that point we had one rifle with 15 bullets and one hand grenade.” On Saturday morning they gave up. They came out of the basement, soaking wet and shivering, clambering over the rubble and body parts. Saturday afternoon they sat and lay in the truck, waiting to be transported two hours away to a camp in Sherbagan. It is unclear what will happen to Abdul Hamid, who says he lost his U.S. passport in Konduz. But he may well be headed for a U.S. military tribunal.
© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2013 Newsweek, Inc.