Breshna’s Survival Story
by Breshna Musazai
On the night of 24 August, I was in the female mosque of American University of Afghanistan, where I was a student. It was 7 pm when I finished my prayer. My best friend was with me. She told me let’s go to library because we had no other class and we were waiting for our driver. My friend opened the door of the mosque and we were about to leave. Suddenly we heard sounds of gunfire and a man who was shouting and saying something. I think he was security guard of our university shouting to inform other guards. My friend closed the door of the mosque and asked me, “Breshna, why is there gun fire?” We were scared.
After multiple gun fires, an explosion happened. The explosion was about 3 meters away from our mosque. With the blow of the explosion I fell down on the floor of the mosque, all the windows broke into pieces, the wooden ceiling of the mosque fell down on us, and there was darkness in the mosque. About ten of us girls were reciting words of Quran, including me. Girls were crying and praying. I was not crying but I was scared. There was horrible gunfire. I called a friend on my cellphone and said “We are under attack in the mosque at AUAF.” I was told stay there and don’t worry the security will handle everything. The gunfire was too much I was scared so I cut the phone. One girl said, everybody get close to walls otherwise bullets will hit us.
I was sitting in front of the door. Another explosion happened and I saw it through the broken windows of the mosque. As the second explosion happened, some girls screamed and started running. The girls stepped on me and went out of the mosque, during gunfire. I knew that I couldn’t run, due to polio in my one leg, so I stayed in the mosque with the remaining girls. After 10 minutes of the explosions the gunfire stopped and then we decided to leave the mosque. Everybody went out of the mosque and ran away. I was the last person in the mosque. I came out of mosque and I saw that the shoe stand has fallen on my shoes. My shoes were under the shoe stand. Therefore, I slowly walked without shoes toward Bayat building. When I got close to Bayat I saw too many broken pieces of glass in front of Bayat entrance. I thought it’s not safe if I go to the emergency door from outside, so then I stepped on the broken pieces of glass and entered Bayat. Bayat has 3 entrance doors and this entrance was close to our mosque.
I knew that I couldn’t run, due to polio in my one leg, so I stayed in the mosque with the remaining girls.
When I entered Bayat, I saw the other girls who were left in the mosque with me. I saw that the corridor is full of broken glass. One of the girls (also a friend of mine) took my hand and said, “Come Breshna”. We walked without shoes on the broken pieces of glass to get close to the end door of Bayat, which was close to the area where there was emergency door. We were close to the door when I saw a girl who was climbing to get inside the admission office through a broken window. All the offices were locked at this time. This is why the girls climbed through the window of the office to hide there. We stood in the corridor for a while, thinking what to do. After that my best friend called me. She asked me where are you, I said I am in Bayat building. She said hide somewhere. That time she was already out of the university. After that I saw another girl climbing to the admission office but when she was climbing, the broken window fell down on the face of another girl who was standing below the window. Her nose and face was cut. Immediately I took out some tissue papers from my bag and gave them to the injured girl. The blood was too much. The tissue papers were not enough to stop the bleeding.
Her nose and face was cut. Immediately I took out some tissue papers from my bag and gave them to the injured girl. The blood was too much. The tissue papers were not enough to stop the bleeding.
After that, the thing I remember is that I looked behind. I don’t remember why I looked behind. When I looked behind I saw the shooter holding and pointing a gun on me, standing next to the main entrance of Bayat (the terrorists came from outside from the main entrance of Bayat). He shot me in that instance. The bullet hit my left leg and I fell down on the ground. I thought I should not move and pretend dead, but the shooter shot me again and the bullet hit my left foot. It was very painful but I had no other way except to pretend dead. Due to fear I did not scream, neither did I move. I was afraid that the terrorist will come close to me and shoot me in my head. I heard he talked to someone in Pashto but I don’t remember what he said. Later, I heard girls’ screaming coming from 2nd floor of Bayat. Another terrorist who was standing about 10 to 12 meters away from me yelled at the students. He shouted and said in Dari, “Don’t scream”. I heard the terrorist talking to the students in the 2nd floor and the students were crying. I did not hear their voices. After few seconds I heard more gunfires.
I thought I should not move and pretend dead, but the shooter shot me again and the bullet hit my left foot. It was very painful but I had no other way except to pretend dead. Due to fear I did not scream, neither did I move. I was afraid that the terrorist will come close to me and shoot me in my head.
After that gunfire there was no more sounds of students. I thought they killed all the students. After that I heard more sounds of gunfires and grenades, which continued for minutes. With every sound of grenades and gunfire my body moved by itself in a jerk and wrench movement. I was scared that if they see my body in a jerk movement then they will know I am alive. My breath was getting fast because of pain and fear. I was trying to stop my breath but I could not. Then I took my scarf into my mouth to slow down my breath. I cannot describe how difficult that time was for me — when you know you are trapped among terrorists, you know you cannot run, you know you are alive but pretending dead, you know they can see you, you know if you move they will shoot you, you know your breath is too fast and they can see you breathing, you know that anytime another bullet can hit you because you are in the field of battle but you cannot move because you have no other way, you know they can throw a grenade anywhere close to you but you can’t move and you can be torn into pieces, you know that in any another second you can die but still you don’t move because they see you. I knew I had only two choices — to pretend to be dead in order to survive, or to die. All of these things were filling my mind in these moments.
I cannot describe how difficult that time was for me — when you know you are trapped among terrorists, you know you cannot run, you know you are alive but pretending dead, you know they can see you, you know if you move they will shoot you, you know your breath is too fast and they can see you breathing.
It was very hard for me to pretend to be dead in that horrible condition. I heard a ringtone of someone’s phone. I thought maybe it is someone’s phone that is no more alive. I was feeling bad for the family of that student whose phone was ringing. I was scared that if my family calls me then my phone will ring. I tried to move to put my phone on silent mode but I could not because I wanted to hide the display light of my phone. Fortunately, I realized that my phone was already on silent mode. When I saw that my family is calling on my phone and there is no tone, I became happy. In time, there were no more sounds of gunfires and grenades. But sometimes there were sounds of someone walking on the broken pieces of glass. Also, I heard a sound like someone was pulling the pieces of broken glass with something.
Then, I could feel someone is around me. I heard strange sounds but I didn’t know what were those sounds. I felt I am in a secluded place why would I hear strange sounds. Those sounds were very low but strange. Also, there was sound like, beeep……beeep, coming maybe from emergency lights. Overall that was a frightening experience for me.
After that I heard alarm of ambulance coming from outside. I became happy that now someone will come and take me out from here, but no one came. I was feeling my blood on the floor and my body was wet with my blood. I thought maybe I would die due to too much bleeding. In the past I heard from people that when someone is injured and going to die then he/she becomes thirsty. Keeping that in mind I thought I would die due to bleeding. Then I tasted whether I am thirsty or not, but I was not thirsty. Only my mouth taste was not normal. Then I realized I am not going to die now. I started feeling cold and my body was too much heavy. The pain was hurting me too much. Due to severe pain, I decided to move to just let them know that I am alive so they kill me because I couldn’t bear the pain. But, again, I got strength and decided to bear the pain and wait for what happens.
I was feeling my blood on the floor and my body was wet with my blood. I thought maybe I would die due to too much bleeding.
In this time, I was missing my family. I was feeling so alone. I was praying to God to take me back to my home to see everyone again. I saw everyone was calling on my phone but I could not answer the calls. I was feeling bad for my family. I knew its very hard for them and maybe they think I am dead now. I prayed to God to forgive me before my soul leaves my body. But again there was hope. There was hope because in the past whenever I heard about terrorist attacks and deaths of people, I prayed to God to give me a peaceful death not a death in a terrorist attack or a death in a despotic way. While remembering my prayers I was hopeful that God will not let me die in this situation. Again, I was thinking that if my lifetime is up then I have to die.
I prayed to God to forgive me before my soul leaves my body. But again there was hope.
After that I heard whispering of people. I decided to move and see who was there , but I thought if it is a terrorist, he will kill me. I saw a girl laying down next to that door from where I wanted to get out of this building. I thought the girl is dead. She was in darkness and I was in light. I wished I was in darkness too so I could answer the call of my family or text them. I decided to move from my place and pull myself with the help of my hands toward that girl to stay in dark. But then I thought if I pull myself the terrorists can see me from behind and my blood can leave a bloody line on the floor, and they will know that I moved from my place and I am alive. That’s why I decided not to move from my place.
After that I heard sounds like someone is shuffling something. There was no talking, but I heard sounds like someone is around. After that I heard sounds of gunfire from a machine gun. There were hundreds of bullets coming from the side of my feet and going over my head. I pinned myself to the floor due to fear and I thought this time I am not going to survive. I felt small pieces of something falling down on my head during the gunfire. That moment was also very hard for me. The bullets were coming like waves and going over me. That time I started praying to God to protect me from those bullets. Again another bullet hit my left foot. It was very painful.
Finally, I decided to move myself. I saw the soldiers standing at the door from where I entered Bayat building. They were very far from me. I could see their shadows in the dark. I waved to them. They said, who are you? Say your name. I was scared from the terrorists and did not want to make any sound that’s why I just waved to them again and again. They were watching me from that corner of the corridor. They moved slowly and got close to the stairs and went inside a room. An explosion happened in that room (maybe that was female bathroom) and the soldiers came out of that room immediately and went out from the building. I thought they would not come back. I became hopeless and I texted my friend again that the soldiers left me. I saw they entered the building again one by one and they were watching me with a binocular in their guns. Again I waved to them.
This took half of an hour. After that I heard sounds from the side of my head, where there was the door from where I wanted to get out of the building. When I looked there I saw another group of soldiers entered from that door. The girl, who was laying down next to that door, stood up immediately and went out of the building. Then I came to know that the girl was alive and fine. When I saw those soldiers I waved to them for help. They told me quietly,” pull yourself toward us, sister”. When they said this I became hopeless that they will not come to me. I knew I can’t pull myself but I had to try to survive. I used my hands to pull myself toward the soldiers. The floor was full of broken pieces of glass but I had no other way. I tried again and again but my body was too much heavy for my hands to pull. The soldiers said, “aafareen (encouraging me) sister pull yourself”. I held the edge of the wall to pull myself, but failed again. There was not enough strength in my right leg, which is the leg that had polio since childhood, to pull myself, so I decided to use my left leg, which was injured by the gunfire. I used my left leg 2 times to pull myself and it worked, but I could not do it more than that due to severe pain.
There was not enough strength in my right leg, which is the leg that had polio since childhood, to pull myself, so I decided to use my left leg, which was injured by the gunfire. I used my left leg 2 times to pull myself and it worked…
Both the groups of soldiers were watching me from both the ends of the corridor. During pulling myself toward the second group of soldiers, I looked back again and again to see if the terrorists were watching me from up stairs or not. When I pulled myself 2 times with the help of my left leg, I felt unconscious and then I put my head on the floor for a while to take some rest. Then I told the second group of soldiers that 3 bullets hit me, and I cannot move. One of the soldiers asked me, is there anyone here. I said no. Then he came close to me and said you are my sister hold my hands. He took my hands and pulled me toward the door and took me out of the building. During pulling me there was very strong pain in my injured leg, and my leg was hit by the stairs when they took me out of there. I groaned due to too much pain. The soldiers said please be quiet, the terrorist will hear us. They put me on ground outside the Bayat door. They were watching me for a while and asked me some questions regarding my injury. After that one of the soldiers told me “you are my sister (hamshera khwahar o madarm asti) take your scarf into your mouth and hold me tight from my shoulders from back side”. Then he took me on his back /shoulders (piggy back). When he took me up from ground there was unbearable pain in my leg and foot. When he was walking my leg was hit by his leg and ground and it was giving me pain. Due to severe pain I was groaning. The soldier told me gently, be quiet we are very close to doctor. Again he said, we want to live therefore control your pain otherwise the terrorists will hear us and kill us.
After few minutes we reached the back gate of AUAF and I saw light and some people there. They put me in ambulance and gave me my phone and my bag. Then one soldier came inside the ambulance and asked my name, took my picture. Then he left. I took out my phone and called my family. My brother came inside the ambulance. When I saw him I smiled. I was happy that I am out of that place and to see my family. When I arrived to hospital I saw my parents and my sisters and I was happy to see everyone again.
My brother came inside the ambulance. When I saw him I smiled. I was happy that I am out of that place and to see my family.
Author: Breshna Musazai is AUAF Alumna. After this attack, she got her treatment at a hospital in Texas, US. Following a recovery after several months of treatment, Breshna chose to come back to Afghanistan. She successfully graduated from AUAF with honors. She has often been compared to Malala Yousufzai from Pakistan, who was shot by the Taliban and is now known as ‘Afghanistan’s Malala’. Breshna was invited to One Young World conference in London in 2019 to share her inspirational story with the world.
Editor: Thomas Valenti