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In one of the most brutal attacks in the recent past, the hospital, which is operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a predominantly Hazara-Shia neighbourhood, was attacked by the Islamic State terrorists on Tuesday (May 12), killing 24, including newborns, mothers and medical staff.

“While pregnant women and babies, in one of life’s most vulnerable states, were seeking healthcare, an unknown number of attackers stormed the maternity ward through a series of explosions and gunfire, lasting for hours,” the MSF said in a statement issued after the attack.

“The first few hours after the attack started, were very very difficult,” said Dr Bina Najeeb, Head of Department and Paediatric Cardiac Surgeon at the French Medical Institute for Children (FMIC), one the few hospitals specialising in childcare in Kabul. “This is not the first time a hospital has been attacked in Kabul. This is one of the worst conflict scenarios, but what was truly worse was that this was a maternity hospital with mothers and their children.”

“When a lady delivers a baby, it is hard for her to move for 20-24 hours. She is physically exhausted. And here, we saw mothers in labour trying to escape gunmen shooting at them and their babies,” he said, the emotional toll of the previous 48 hours heavy in his voice.

MSF also shared that while the attack was under way “one woman gave birth to her baby, and both are doing well”. 

Many of the children injured during the attack and brought to the hospital are being treated by Dr. Najeeb and his team. Some of them were unidentifiable because they only had small tickets on their hands with the names of their mothers. “We had to launch an immediate campaign to help search for their parents and families within communities,” the doctor said. As of Saturday afternoon, six of the 19 babies still remain unidentified in Kabul hospitals.

The brutality of the attack shocked Afghans who had been expecting a reduction in violence during the sacred month of Ramadan, and owing to a deal signed between the United States and the Taliban in a bid to end the 19-year-long conflict.