Who Was the Afghan Mom Executed by Taliban?

ByABC News via logo

Oct. 2, 2002 -- It was nearly a year ago that television viewers around the world first saw the searing image of an Afghan woman, shrouded in her burqa, publicly executed by a Taliban gunman at a soccer stadium.

Footage of the faceless, nameless woman shot dead in Kabul's Olympic Stadium was secretly smuggled out of Afghanistan by members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), a women's group. Before long, the images of the Nov. 17, 1999, execution became an icon for female suffering under Taliban rule.

But now the woman without a face has a name: Zarmina. Reporter Anton Antonowicz of The Daily Mirror in London learned the identity of the woman behind the veil, and found out that she had actually been in prison for three years on charges of killing her husband.

Zarmina had been brought to jail along with her 1-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and for a while, she thought her children would save her.

Accused of Murdering Husband

The 35-year-old mother of seven was accused of murdering her husband, and her only hope was to be spared on account of her children, a hope fed by the Taliban declaring that until her twins were weaned, Zarmina would live.

"She kept repeating the same statement, and that was 'they're not going to kill me, they're not going to kill me'," Antonowicz told Good Morning America. "Who will look after my five children? I'm a mother. They would not kill a mother."

But Zarmina was wrong. Once her twins were weaned, her execution was scheduled.

Though it had been announced on the radio days before, Zarmina knew nothing about her impending death. She was convinced her punishment would be 100 lashes.

In fact, the morning of her execution she borrowed two extra dresses from fellow prisoners, and put them on underneath her burqa, hoping to soften the blows.

Dead on the Spot

Antonowicz was told by eyewitness in Afghanistan about what happened that morning. In front of 30,000 spectators, Zarmina was made to kneel before the soccer goalposts.

"She was taken, made to kneel on the penalty spot, and behind her was the man with the rifle. She knew nothing still," he said. "And then the man fired, his hand shaking so much the bullet merely creased the side of her head, cutting through the burqa but not injuring her."

Just at that split second Zarmina realized, obviously, that she was about to be shot.

"She raised both arms and pleaded for somebody to hold them — just to keep her steady," Antonowicz said. "Nobody moved except for the one Taliban with the rifle who shot her straight through the head this time, and she lay face down on that penalty spot, dead."

Her punishment had been determined by her husband's family — revenge killing, Afghan-style.

An Abusive Husband?

But according to sources, the display of "Taliban justice" was not what it seemed. They told Antonowicz that Zarmina's husband, Aladdin, was abusive, and that she killed him in order to try to save her children.

"She and the oldest daughter conspired together and on that particular night, they took what is either some sleeping tablets or opium — one isn't sure — but they put it in the father's food," Antonowicz said.

While her husband was in a drugged sleep, Zarmina got up, and she went to her daughter and said that it was time to kill him.

"Zarmina could not do it," Antonowicz said. "Finally it was the daughter who picked up the 10-pound mason's hammer and hit her father once on the head while he was asleep killing him with that single blow."

Zarmina never admitted her daughter's role, and no one was looking to champion the cause of a woman in such a predicament.

An Anonymous Grave

Residents showed Antonowicz the location of Zarmina's final resting place outside of Kabul. Her grave is as anonymous as her death, and her body has laid unclaimed by any relatives, because of the family's shame.

Antonowicz said the real shame would be if people forgot Zarmina's death. Now as women in Afghanistan come out from behind the veil, those who suffered should be remembered, he said.

But what is significant about this story is that people in Afghanistan are actually telling Zarmina's story. That they want the world to know what happened to her with a hope that it will never happen again.

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