A day on the job with Kabul’s crime scene investigators


Kabul, Afghanistan – Ghullam Faroq bustles by way of the slender hallways on the outdated Ministry of Interior constructing within the coronary heart of Kabul, a stack of folders tucked within the criminal of his arm and a cellphone pressed to his ear. He climbs the steps to the second ground and is buzzed by way of a sequence of doorways with metallic bars and contact keypads.

It is simply after 7:30am on a day in late 2019 and the top of a 24-hour shift main a workforce of 11. Before he heads home, Faroq has a debriefing with the director of investigations.

Faroq, 54, is from Logar, a restive province roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Afghanistan’s capital. His crime investigation profession spans greater than 30 years – the previous 11 years of these spent right here at Kabul’s crime scene investigation (CSI) division.

“It’s a busy morning. It’s always a busy morning,” Faroq says, settling right into a seat within the director’s workplace. He cuts a dapper determine in his black turtleneck, mustard blazer, putting moustache and slim spectacles.

The CSI unit travels to as many as 30 crime scenes a day, conducting investigations and interviews with witnesses, accumulating proof and submitting it to the Forensic Medicine Directorate (FMD), the nation’s solely working forensic laboratory, positioned within the Ministry of Public Health, a two-storey constructing within the centre of Kabul.

Kabul’s CSI division was established in 2009 in a metropolis police station. Today, Faroq says there are 10 smaller CSI models and 50 investigators working throughout Afghanistan however the Kabul CSI workforce of 33 takes on the brunt of the workload, going through a deluge of lots of of circumstances per week from throughout the nation. These vary from homicides to assassinations of the nation’s highest elected officers to serial killings, burglaries, armed robberies, theft and extortion. There are additionally crimes linked to narcotics, to which an estimated three million individuals within the nation of about 34 million are addicted, kidnappings, road crime and home violence – the archives are overflowing.

Moreover, the workforce has not been capable of begin work on a backlog of hundreds of chilly circumstances resulting from an absence of workers, forensic proof, and satisfactory gear – notably for DNA testing.

392A1509The CSI groups’ battered metallic case of their dated however treasured forensic gear on the crime scene [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

In 2014, when US troops left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield as a part of a army drawdown, useful American forensic gear was handed over to the Ministry of Interior (MOI). But with an absence of educated consultants in Afghanistan who know how one can use that gear, the laboratory within the MOI presently stays inactive, whereas the American devices sit locked away in a warehouse gathering mud, in accordance with FMD specialists.

The operational forensic laboratory on the FMD takes felony circumstances from the CSI division and judicial departments and is working in the direction of constructing the primary nationwide DNA database for Afghanistan, however it additionally suffers from an absence of assets and gear. Despite being in operation for 39 years, FMD receives minimal authorities funding and is pressured to ship the vast majority of its DNA samples to Canada for evaluation.

The taking pictures

Faroq’s assembly is interrupted by a cellphone name from the police station – a deadly taking pictures at a neighborhood hospital. He jumps to his ft and heads exterior to affix three members of the CSI workforce climbing into hazmat fits and loading up their van with forensic gear.

Careening by way of Kabul’s busy streets, Faroq receives one other cellphone name. The sufferer is now not on the crime scene – police officers violated protocol and took his physique to a close-by army hospital.

Faroq takes the event in stride and the workforce detours – this isn’t the primary time a physique has absconded. “Usually, we would go to the crime scene first to collect evidence before it is tainted by others, but we also need to take blood samples and photographs and notes of the body before the family receives it for burial. If the body is no longer at the crime scene, we have to make a choice of priority,” he says.

The sufferer is a hospital safety guard, allegedly shot within the neck by his colleague whereas they have been each on the evening shift. At the army hospital, Faroq learns the sufferer was nonetheless alive when he arrived on the emergency room however died whereas being handled. “The suspect and two other witnesses are now arrested and under investigation at 11 police station,” he says.

In the hospital courtyard, behind a display, the sufferer lays on a stretcher.

392A1354Ghullam Faroq takes the victims fingerprints whereas one other member of the CSI workforce inspects the physique [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

Faroq takes his fingerprints whereas one other member of the CSI workforce inspects the physique, scribbling down notes. A 3rd member pictures the injuries. “One bullet with an entry and exit point, here in the trachea,” calls out Faroq.

“Now NDS [National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service] district head is talking with the family of the victim and telling them that we want to take the body to FMD. But the family is protesting. They want to take the body for the funeral now and I don’t think they will allow FMD to take it,” says Faroq.

“It’s important for the body to reach FMD so that they can determine the exact time of the shooting, the firing distance etc. If we can get the suspect to FMD also, they can also conduct tests to tell us if the victim or suspect was under the influence of any alcohol or narcotics.”

On the opposite facet of the display, amongst a crowd of curious onlookers, is the useless safety guard’s four-year-old son with a male family member. As the workforce packs up and leaves the hospital, in a non-public gesture, Faroq palms the kid his father’s boots.

392A1254A member of the CSI workforce pictures the sufferer at a neighborhood hospital within the capital [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

The workforce heads to the crime scene, the van transferring by way of crowds of individuals within the bazaar.

“I have been working with the CSI team for seven years,” shouts one of many workforce over the din of the bazaar streaming in by way of the open home windows. He reaches right into a field beneath his seat and palms out cans of power drinks to the motive force, who additionally acts because the workforce’s photographer, Faroq and one other workforce member within the again seat.

“He’s been here for three years,” he says in Dari, gesturing to the scrawny man within the again seat. “But he doesn’t talk. He stopped speaking two years ago. Do you want to interview him?” he provides.

“Today there are only four of us,” continues the workforce member, explaining that two groups are despatched to research extra severe or advanced crimes.

“It’s a really harmful and tough job. Honestly, I feel it’s having a very detrimental impression on my psychological state. I’ve personally visited round 5,000 crime scenes. Homicides are only one sort of case. We see quite a lot of suicide circumstances, and likewise the aftermath of suicide bombings.

“These are the photos of the suicide attack near the Ministry of Interior,” he continues, referring to the lethal January 27, 2018 blast, flipping by way of photographs on his cellphone. “Here they are just photos, but I remember what it feels like to collect the flesh of someone’s body in my hands and put it in a bag.”

392A1529Among a crowd of curious onlookers is the useless safety guard’s four-year-old son with a male family member [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

Violence, crime on the rise

On February 29, 2020 the United States and the Taliban signed a conditional peace deal in Doha, Qatar. The deal gives a fundamental discount that requires US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan inside 14 months on the situation that the Taliban ratchets again assaults on US and Afghan troops.

Despite the settlement and the start of the intra-Afghan peace negotiations on September 12, the nation has seen a surge in violence. The Taliban has continued assaults throughout the nation, finishing up 356 assaults in only one week, the inside ministry’s spokesman mentioned on October 24, 2020. October was the deadliest month in Afghanistan for civilians – with not less than 212 killed – since September 2019, in accordance with information compiled by The New York Times. At least 369 pro-government forces have been killed that month.

According to Human Rights Watch, a number one reason for civilian deaths and accidents have been Taliban assaults utilizing improvised explosive units (IEDs) and in 2020 Afghanistan remained the deadliest nation for civilians. The newest quarterly report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 5,939 civilian casualties, together with 2,117 killed and three,822 injured, from January 1 to September 30, 2020. According to the report, the Taliban was accountable for 45 % of civilian casualties, and Afghan nationwide safety forces for 23 %, largely resulting from floor engagements.

Moreover, Afghanistan is seeing an increase in civilian assassinations. On January 1 this 12 months, Bismillah Adil Aimaq grew to become the fifth journalist to be killed in two months. On January 17, two feminine supreme courtroom judges have been shot useless in an early morning ambush in Kabul.

392A1737‘Department of Crime Scene Investigations’ reads the textual content on the facet of the CSI groups’ van [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

Speaking in October 2020, Faroq says the variety of circumstances on his desk has risen in step with an increase in crime, predominantly within the capital. Hard statistics are usually not publicly obtainable or don’t exist from the Afghan authorities or from any impartial organisation, but the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies (CSRS), an impartial civil society organisation, revealed an evaluation on October 15 describing a peak in crime in a lot of provinces together with Kabul.

The CSRS stories that in accordance with Kabul police officers, 146 felony incidents befell within the metropolis up to now 20 days and 133 suspects had been arrested in reference to thefts, murders, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and different types of aggression.

The report explains that Afghanistan’s economic system stays largely depending on international help, and as international help has fallen sharply lately, this has led to an increase in unemployment, which is instantly linked to a rise in crime. The CSRS stories medicine, financial issues, political and safety issues as causes for the spike in crime the nation witnessed after 2018. Issues like an absence of enforcement and widespread institutional corruption additionally contribute.

Faroq sees the rise in crime as eroding belief between the federal government and folks. Citizens accuse safety businesses of being concerned in robberies and felony actions and lots of are involved that the perpetrators of felony acts can be launched as soon as they’re handed over to safety businesses.

There can also be an absence of coordination between regulation enforcement and safety businesses in implementing the regulation and penal code. Furthermore, Faroq relays that many extra incidents by no means even reach the prosecutor’s workplace.

Masoud Andarabi, the inside minister, didn’t reply to requests for touch upon the rise in crime throughout Afghanistan.

The crime scene

The rushing CSI van arrives on the crime scene. It is cordoned off however nonetheless swarmed by onlookers and a handful of males in darkish fits. “NDS”, says Faroq nodding on the members of the Afghan intelligence service. “But actually, they are not required to be here.”

Crowds are a difficulty for investigations, in accordance with Faroq. “A lot of people try to get the scene. Many times they already have.”

Six departments will work collectively on the case together with a prosecutor from the legal professional normal’s workplace and two NDS officers.

They set about their work, inserting the bullet casing in an envelope, accumulating samples from a pool of blood on the ground within the courtyard, nonetheless moist, and photographing bloody footprints main into the hospital.

392A1647A bullet casing is collected from the crime scene as proof [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

“We record everything. Every detail can help us to have the full picture of the case before it goes to the attorney general or judge,” says Faroq, surveying his workforce at work.

“We need to check the list of the guards with the hospital director to determine who was on duty and at what time. Another team is searching for the first responder who transferred the victim’s body to the hospital. He could be a witness or a suspect at this point and we want to collect his fingerprints and interview him also. If we can’t find him, we will follow his phone signal and find him that way.”

The sufferer’s cellphone will go to the technical workforce to see what they’ll extract. The suspect and witnesses’ clothes can be taken into proof.

“We should complete our work on a case in two days,” says Faroq.

The workforce is completed. They pack up their battered circumstances, now filled with proof and samples, and head to the police station. “We need to meet the suspect, take his fingerprints and it’s time for his questioning.”

The interrogation

Six males squish onto two couches within the workplace of the chief of police at 11 police station. The CSI workforce, the top of police and a prosecutor sit whereas two NDS officers in leather-based jackets and sun shades lurk within the nook.

The suspect is introduced into the room. He shuffles earlier than the boys, his head down.

He had already been questioned by police. But as head of the CSI investigation workforce, Faroq has his personal interrogation to conduct. “The suspect admitted to killing his colleague but we know that there were others present at the same time and he could have been pressured by others or even the police, so it’s important for me to conduct my own investigation,” he explains.

He locations a clipboard on his lap and begins his questioning, fastidiously taking notes. He asks the suspect his title, age, the place he was born, the place he lives, and whether or not he’s married. “Did you go to school?”

“Yes. Up to sixth class,” responds the despondent suspect.

As Faroq queues up his subsequent query, the police station’s energy cuts out, pitching the small room into darkness. The males rustle of their pockets, and three cell phone lights flick on, casting distorted shadows on the partitions. The questioning continues.

Faroq asks in regards to the male family members – his father’s title, his grandfather’s title and whether or not he has a brother.

“What is he doing? Nephew? What is he doing? Uncle? What is he doing?”

“He is a retired police officer.”

“Your uncle’s son? What is he doing?

“He is a de-miner in an NGO.”

“Your mom’s brother? What is his job?

“He owns a business.”

“Your father-in-law? What is his job?

“He is dead.”

“Your brother-in-law?”

“He is a teacher.”

The 30-year-old suspect is in shock. He explains how he had been looking for work for a lot of months, had per week’s coaching and solely began the job as a hospital safety guard per week in the past. His wage is 12,000 Afghan afghani ($156) a month.

“The MOI branch provides just a week long training for their members,” says one of many NDS males from the nook of the room. He is referring to the department of the Ministry of Interior which gives safety for the personal sector.

“Did they biometric you?” asks Faroq.


392A1818Ghullam Faroq writes by cellphone gentle after a blackout within the police station [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

Faroq asks the suspect to take off his coat so he might be photographed.

The males proceed to {photograph} the suspect on their cell phones.

“Now, sit down and tell me what happened,” says Faroq.

“We were on duty at the same time, from 5:30pm to 8:00am and we were sitting facing one another, trying to stay awake, when the gun went off,” says the suspect.

“In your training, didn’t they tell you to check the weapon’s safety lock?” mutters Faroq, shaking his head in disbelief.

“We were almost finished [with] our shift,” pipes up the suspect. “Almost ready to hand over to the new guards that morning. I only met him [the victim] that day and I remember him telling me that we were from the same area, Najrab district. This is what I keep thinking about.”

Security guards in Kabul have an extremely robust job, Faroq later explains. They work lengthy hours for low pay and they’re on the entrance line of assaults. Then winter comes and the lengthy nights turn out to be colder and staying alert turns into that a lot more durable.

“It’s just an accident but these incidents happen too often.”

Psychological toll

The physique of the sufferer by no means made it to FMD. It was intercepted en route by the household and brought for burial.

“The problem is that no one know the rules and everyone is doing what they want,” says Faroq.

“Over the past few years our work has become more difficult.”

This is basically because of the sheer dimension of the inhabitants, safety challenges and an absence of assets and supplies for the workforce’s investigations. “Special chemicals are needed for analysis that unfortunately is not available to the CSI and forensic teams.”

Today, high-level corruption additionally challenges the workforce. “With some cases, there are influences by governmental stockholders and security officials, powerful men, who can cause adulteration at the scene of [a] crime or with the case afterwards,” says Faroq.

Furthermore, there’s a lack of cooperation between departments, and easily guaranteeing proof just isn’t tampered with, contaminated or eliminated generally is a tough activity by itself.

In this case, the suspect’s gun went lacking for hours. “It was picked up by local people and then by the police and now it has the fingerprints of many different people on it. This makes it harder to distinguish the fingerprints of the culprit, making our work very difficult.”

Another problem was the gun’s journal. “It can hold 30 bullets, but when we received the magazine there were 27 bullets,” says Faroq. “The man was shot only once so now we are asking the district police chief how many bullets were in the gun when he received it.”

392A1766The CSI unit examines the suspects’ gun which turned up on the police station after going lacking for hours after the taking pictures on the hospital [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

Faroq’s work largely focuses on bomb blasts however due to poverty, home crimes particularly have taken over the vast majority of the circumstances the CSI workforce are referred to as to.

The pandemic has pushed Afghanistan’s economic system into detrimental development. The variety of Afghans living in poverty has jumped from about half to about two-thirds in accordance with a report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network in October. Faroq says the impact of COVID-19, unemployment, and an absence of fundamental authorities companies when it comes to healthcare and safety are vital elements behind rising crime.

And he doesn’t really feel protected on the job, neither mentally nor bodily. “There is not any psychological well being help to handle the emotional toll from the work. And due to the dangerous safety scenario in our job the bodily and psychological stress and unwanted side effects really feel like a extreme incapacity like deafness and blindness.

“I am not safe and I can’t guarantee the safety of my team,” laments Faroq. “We fear our own society and people. The threat comes from Taliban, terrorist groups, local thugs, criminals and you know, the [Afghan] mafia have their way of pressuring us also.”

Identifying victims with cell phones

Despite the big pressures they’re beneath, Faroq and his workforce stay resourceful as do his colleagues in forensics.

An Afghan identification card, generally known as a Tazkira, is meant to be issued to all residents however Muhammad Rehman Shirzad, head of the forensic lab on the FMD, says few individuals even have them, creating additional issues with regards to figuring out the our bodies of victims.

Shirzad says it is usually due to the shortage of beginning certificates and ID playing cards that our bodies are despatched to their division to allow them to assess the victims’ age.

On January 27, 2018, an enormous blast rocked the Afghan capital. A suicide bomber had pushed an ambulance onto the CSI workplace’s doorstep and detonated, killing greater than 100 individuals and wounding 253 others. After the blast, the useless have been transported to the FMD’s felony forensic laboratory.

“Many of the bodies were in bad condition — for some we only received body organs,” says Shirzad. “But in addition to the physique components, we obtained baggage of cell phones, IDs and different private gadgets of the victims.

“Most of the mobile phones had turned off because of the huge waves produced during the bomb blast and some were half burned.”

While his workforce was busy with postmortem investigations, Shirzad took a broken cellphone and charged it. He instantly obtained a cellphone name. “It was an older man, who I later found out was the father of the deceased. It was a really sad moment,” he says, remembering pondering how he might need to inform this particular person they’d misplaced a liked one within the bomb blast.

“The father said: ‘Just tell me, did I lose him or is he alive?’ I said: ‘We receive many dead bodies, if he is not here among the dead, then I am sure he will be somewhere in the hospital.’”

392A1460The sufferer of the hospital taking pictures solely had 100 Afghanis ($1.30); safety guards are paid very low wages [Lynzy Billing/Al Jazeera]

Shirzad informed the person they’d obtained this cellphone from the proof baggage and to return to the FMD to attempt to determine their member of the family from beginning marks, scars or another markings.

“An hour later, he arrived at FMD and at a first glance he identified his son from body fragments received, by a mark on his leg, just his leg. We completed our work and handed over the body part to the family.”

Situations like these have gotten extra frequent.

But that’s as a result of, in opposition to the chances, the CSI workforce and forensic division are harnessing the distinctive success of the Afghan telecommunications sector to determine victims and remedy crimes.

They are making use of the excessive per-capita proliferation of cell phones within the nation. A 2019 research discovered that greater than 90 % of Afghans have not less than one member of their family who owns a cell phone.

“The CTD (Criminal Technique Department) and cybersecurity team can identify the phone number, most recent phone call, and they can use pictures or contacts on the phone to identify bodies,” says Faroq.

Data is taken from sim playing cards, SD playing cards and social media accounts to find out the identification of the victims from crime and bomb blasts. Through fingerprinting of the physique and the cellphone in addition to looking out the cellphone’s movies and pictures and contacting latest contacts, the identification of the physique might be verified.

Afghanistan’s telecommunications networks – each personal and governmental – work along with the authorities, the CSI and cybercrime models to catch a suspect. Mobile cellphone carriers, like Etisalat, can present authorities with a cell phone’s precise location and infrequently a historical past of voice recordings made by the cellphone in addition to movies and photographs, says Faroq. This information may point out the suspect’s precise location, together with a historical past of previous areas.

The way forward for felony justice in Afghanistan is thru cell know-how and social media surveillance, he says.

A chilly case

Back on the CSI headquarters, it’s now 5:45pm. Dusk falls on the capital as Faroq palms over his case notes from the shift to the assistant to be filed.

“This is Afghanistan, every department, every institution is cuffed,” says Faroq. “We have limited training, equipment and resources.”

But the workforce stays decided to convey justice to victims of crime.

“The CSI team is emotionally and physically exhausted. I am emotionally so tired, but I stay because of my passion for this field. I stay to identify the culprits of crime and I do it for every victim.”

Elements of the day with the CSI workforce appeared like a darkish parody, from the hijacked physique to the misplaced gun. But there was no joke in regards to the seriousness of the crimes or the doable repercussions for the suspect, who stays in police custody.

“We tried our best to find some evidence on the gun of the fingerprints of the suspect, but we did not succeed, the evidence was damaged,” says Faroq.

The investigation is ongoing, and the case has joined hundreds of different unsolved circumstances, filed away within the dusty archives of a backroom on the Kabul CSI division.