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'No More Hope': Slain Afghan Photographer Covered His Country's Turmoil For 2 Decades

Afghan girls practice taekwondo at Kabul Stadium on International Women's Day in 2004.
Shah Marai
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AFP/Getty Images
Afghan girls practice taekwondo at Kabul Stadium on International Women's Day in 2004.

"No worry man, I am here."

Afghan photojournalist Shah Marai sent the WhatsApp message Monday to a colleague stuck in traffic, trying to reach the scene of a suicide attack in Kabul. Minutes later, Marai, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse, was killed in a second attack.

The 41-year-old photographer was one of at least nine Afghan journalists and more than two dozen others who lost their lives in the day's coordinated suicide bombings, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. The second attacker was reported to have been disguised as a video cameraman.

A BBC Afghan service reporter was also killed Monday in a separate attack. It was the deadliest day for journalists in Afghanistan since 2001 and certainly one of the deadliest for journalists in any country.

Marai began his AFP career as a driver in 1996 and rose to become one of Afghanistan's best-known photojournalists, "his income supporting a large family that included three blind brothers and two blind children," New York Times senior Afghanistan correspondent Mujib Mashal writes.

In the late 1990s, a time when Afghanistan was largely isolated, Marai covered life under the Taliban — who threatened and beat him while they were in power, according to AFP — and was present in Kabul when they were driven out of power in November 2001.

"They hated journalists," Marai recalled in a 2016 essay, "so I was always very discreet — I always made sure to put on the traditional shalwar kameez outfit when going outside and I took pictures with a small camera that I hid in a scarf wrapped around my hand." The Taliban forbade photography of any living being, making photojournalism particularly risky, but Marai managed to shoot images showing grim scenes of daily life, including public amputations of suspected thieves' limbs and women lining up for bread.

In the years that followed, Marai chronicled his country's turmoil, its progress and, at times, the deaths of friends and colleagues — fellow journalists who lost their lives in Afghanistan's violence. "Yet through it all he remained known for his humor, his love for his children — often bringing his sons to the bureau to visit colleagues — and his enthusiastic efforts to bring down office tension with games of ping pong or volleyball," AFP reports. Marai was a father of six, including an infant daughter born in April.

In 2016, 15 years after the Taliban fell, "There is no more hope," he wrote. He explained his worries and uncertainty about the future: "Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity. I don't dare to take my children for a walk. ... I have never felt life to have so little prospects and I don't see a way out. It's a time of anxiety."

A selection of Shah Marai's photos from Afghanistan follows.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

An Afghan soldier keeps watch above a road leading to the Salang Tunnel during Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit on Aug. 27, 2003.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan soldier keeps watch above a road leading to the Salang Tunnel during Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit on Aug. 27, 2003.
An Afghan policeman stands guard as an 8-ton pile of opium, heroin and hashish is destroyed in Kabul in 2004.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan policeman stands guard as an 8-ton pile of opium, heroin and hashish is destroyed in Kabul in 2004.
Afghan men offer Eid al-Adha prayer at the Shah-Do Shamshira mosque in Kabul on Sept. 12, 2016.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Afghan men offer Eid al-Adha prayer at the Shah-Do Shamshira mosque in Kabul on Sept. 12, 2016.
Afghan women line up to receive a donation of food during the month of Ramadan in Kabul on July 9, 2015. The Afghanistan's Chamber of Commerce and Industries distributed food to some 1,000 families.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Afghan women line up to receive a donation of food during the month of Ramadan in Kabul on July 9, 2015. The Afghanistan's Chamber of Commerce and Industries distributed food to some 1,000 families.
Afghans on a ride at a fairground in Kabul on Sept. 6, 2017.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Afghans on a ride at a fairground in Kabul on Sept. 6, 2017.
Afghan National Army soldiers march at a ceremony marking the end of a formal disarmament and reintegration program in Kabul on July 7, 2005. Afghanistan said it had completed the first stage of the U.N.-backed disarmament program aimed at collecting weapons including tanks and cannons from tens of thousands of former militiamen.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Afghan National Army soldiers march at a ceremony marking the end of a formal disarmament and reintegration program in Kabul on July 7, 2005. Afghanistan said it had completed the first stage of the U.N.-backed disarmament program aimed at collecting weapons including tanks and cannons from tens of thousands of former militiamen.
Afghan children who work as water vendors search for customers at the Kart-e-Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on Jan. 12, 2015. Thousands of victims of the country's civil war of the 1990s are buried in cemeteries across the Afghan capital.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Afghan children who work as water vendors search for customers at the Kart-e-Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on Jan. 12, 2015. Thousands of victims of the country's civil war of the 1990s are buried in cemeteries across the Afghan capital.
Afghan mourners carry the coffin of Saeed Jawad Hossini, 29, one of seven killed in a suicide attack on a minibus carrying employees of Afghanistan's TOLO TV channel in Kabul on Jan. 21, 2016.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Afghan mourners carry the coffin of Saeed Jawad Hossini, 29, one of seven killed in a suicide attack on a minibus carrying employees of Afghanistan's TOLO TV channel in Kabul on Jan. 21, 2016.
An Afghan amputee sits at a Kabul hospital for war victims and the disabled run by the International Committee of the Red Cross, on April 3, 2016.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan amputee sits at a Kabul hospital for war victims and the disabled run by the International Committee of the Red Cross, on April 3, 2016.
U.S. Army soldiers inspect the wreckage of a U.S. MH-53 Pave Low helicopter near Bagram Airfield on Nov. 24, 2003. Five soldiers were killed and seven others injured when the transport helicopter crashed while taking part in Operation Mountain Resolve, an operation to hunt down Taliban supporters and other militants.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Army soldiers inspect the wreckage of a U.S. MH-53 Pave Low helicopter near Bagram Airfield on Nov. 24, 2003. Five soldiers were killed and seven others injured when the transport helicopter crashed while taking part in Operation Mountain Resolve, an operation to hunt down Taliban supporters and other militants.
An Afghan woman takes a photograph with her cellphone at the election rally of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Jalalabad on Feb. 18, 2014.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan woman takes a photograph with her cellphone at the election rally of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Jalalabad on Feb. 18, 2014.
An Afghan pedestrian walks past snow-covered trees in Kabul on Feb. 5, 2017. Avalanches and freezing weather killed more than 20 people in different areas of Afghanistan, as rescuers worked to save scores still trapped under the snow.
Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan pedestrian walks past snow-covered trees in Kabul on Feb. 5, 2017. Avalanches and freezing weather killed more than 20 people in different areas of Afghanistan, as rescuers worked to save scores still trapped under the snow.

Hannah Bloch is lead digital editor on NPR's international desk, overseeing the work of NPR correspondents and freelance journalists around the world.

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