Never in his life did Khoda Bakhsh imagine he would be kidnapped by ISIS, the terror group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
But for nine months Khoda Bakhsh and his 30 others were held by the terrorist group in Zabul province, Afghanistan.
In this exclusive story, Ghayor Waziri, explains hears the horrific story.
It’s a sunny but cold morning as I arrive at the home of Khoda Bakhsh’s in Kabul, but once inside the house is filled with warmth, guests and children.
Last February Khoda Bakhsh was traveling on a bus on the Kabul-Herat Highway, when he and 30 other passengers, mostly ethnic Hazaras, were kidnapped by ISIS fighters.
It was beyond what Khoda Bakhsh, 34, believed could ever happen to him. The passengers had just resumed their trip after stopping for lunch, says Khoda Baksh.
“After about 20 minutes I saw dozens of masked gunmen who were wearing Afghan national security force uniforms. They stopped our car and directed us to another street for about 20 minutes,” he says, “They made all the passengers get out and lay on the ground and then they carried us up the mountain.”
Khoda Bakhsh says the gunmen were Uzbeks – members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU. Last year the group announced it was joining ISIS.
The IMU has been active in Afghanistan for more than a decade, fighting Afghan security forces.
Khoda Bakhsh again.
“At first they didn’t ask us anything. Just they beat us,” he says, “They said why are you living under the infidel Afghan government flag? All the abductors were Uzbeks. During the 9 months I was with them I never seen any Pashtun or Tajiks, all of them talked Uzbeki with each other, just the ones who escorted us could speak Persian.”
During the months they were held, Khoda Bakhsh says they were exposed to brutality.
“In the mountains there was a ruined house, the second night, they divided us into two groups and started asking what our jobs and professions were, he explains, “They were looking for those who have been working for the government. One of our friends, a security officer was beheaded in front of our eyes. They sent his head to government, and then made us bury the body.”
During the period they were held, Khoda Bakhsh saw four of his friends killed by the ISIS militants.
It was an extremely tough time. He found it difficult to even think about his family.
“Every kind of hope for life died in me during the time with ISIS. On the last week I was there they told us, if the government doesn’t go ahead with the exchange you will all face beheading,’ he recalls, “Our feet and hands were locked in chains and we were persecuted in every way you can imagine, beaten from head toe and then they would rub salt in our wounds. Two times they tried to bury me alive in a grave, and two times I was nearly beheaded, with a knife at my neck.”
After months in captivity, Khoda Baksh and six others learned the Taliban was planning to attck the militants detaining them.
Their captors gave them suicide vests and instructed them to blow themselves up when the Taliban fighters arrived.
But, there was an unlikely turn of events.
“Actually the Taliban released us, when the fights started among ISIS and the Taliban we could hear shooting and other heavy weapons exploding, it was very heavy fighting that continued for two nights and three days,” he says.
And then there was an eerie silence.
“In the afternoon of the third day the fights grew silent, suddenly the Taliban fighters entered our room and told us, ‘You’re free now’. We thought this might be wrong and they would want to kill us,” he says, “But they carried us to their house and gave us food and tea.”
Khoda Bakhsh’s older brother Ali Daad was the first person to hear the news.
“I was in house when I received his call where he told me, “I am Khoda Bakhsh and have been released from ISIS’. I didn’t believe it at first and told him no you are lying, but the second time when he called me then I believed him,” he says, “I was so happy and I ran to tell my mother.”
Khoda Bakhsh’s kidnapping took its toll on his family. They had heard the news he had been kidnapped and didn’t know if they would ever see him again.
Today he has rejoined his family, but he is deeply traumatized by the experience. And his family is paying off thousands of dollars in loans – money spent on trying to free him.
But at least Khoda Baksh can say, ‘I was kidnapped by ISIS-aligned fighters and I survived.’