Athletes talk of ‘miracle’ escape from Taliban’s grasp

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Roadside bomb nearly killed three-year-old Dalil in November 2011

A team of Afghans who managed to escape the Taliban, while it was controlling more than 60% of the country, have spoken of the “miracle” escape.

The 65 members of the 2011 Golden Falcon team were pursuing their sport for the first time after a fallow period during which they used it to entertain.

They escaped through Khak-e Sangar on the east-central border with Iran, an area under Taliban control.

They joined a convoy of high-level officials including the president’s cousin, a member of parliament and officials from the International Olympic Committee.

Fourteen of the team were killed when a roadside bomb near the Khak-e Sangar crossing went off, nearly killing three-year-old Dalil Rashid, the youngest Afghan athlete.

But the second-eighth-branch of the embassy hosted the refugees for three days in 2013 while they waited to apply for permission to come to Europe and the United States.

The team remained until December 2013, when another dam was destroyed, but the United Nations said they had suffered no harm during their stay.

It was then they decided to leave for Europe and were welcomed by the Spanish government, where they were nominated for the 2014 European Games, which are held every two years and are loosely based on the Olympic Games.

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Ali Alzayat, manager of the athletes, said the team wanted to leave Afghanistan but “for a month we could not do that”.

“In that time, I was stuck in Iran. My nephew wrote to me that his cousins from the Golden Falcon team were very poor and we should help them.”

As the convoy waited for a translator to return from Germany, the team began to imagine the Taliban had surrounded the convoy.

“People were more scared about what would happen if a villager died from a stray bullet or a bomb and we had to send bad news,” Mr Alzayat said.

‘Miracle escape’

He described the escape as a “miracle” as he added: “It was a small group of us, sitting on the side of the road, with five others, two of them hurt, the others were injured in the journey.”

The convoy hoped to spend the night in Iran but got stranded in Khak-e Sangar after nightfall.

The team waited for help, which had not arrived, until 11 January. It lasted seven hours, he said.

Mr Alzayat says he was tied up with his team at the time.

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