Young Afghan soccer player killed trying to flee on U.S. plane

A promising young soccer player was among the Afghans who died trying to escape life under the Taliban this week. Mohammad Zaki Anwari, 19, was heading for a bright future representing Afghanistan on the soccer field, but the Islamic fundamentalist group’s dramatic retaking of power drove him to Kabul’s international airport in the desperate hope of boarding an evacuation flight to keep his dreams alive.

“We had a training session a day before the Taliban captured Kabul, he was a talented center back,” said Rahil Abid, who’d played with Anwari on the Afghan national under-16s team since they were 12. “He was also a brilliant student and his dream was to be a world class footballer and he dreamed of making Afghanistan a big name on the world stage.”

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Rahil Abid, left, is seen with his friend and fellow Afghan national under-16s soccer teammate Mohammed Zaki Anwari in an undated file photo. Courtesy of Rahil Abid

Abid told CBS News that when Anwari heard the Taliban was at the gates of Kabul, he rushed to the airport with his friends.

“The next day, I heard the news of his tragedy,” Abid said. “I wasn’t able to see his body or able to go to his funeral because of the current situation in Kabul, but apparently he is one of the Afghans who fell from the plane’s wing or tires after takeoff.” 

Evacuations resume at Kabul airport 17:14

Several people were killed on Monday as hundreds of Afghans ran down the runway at Kabul’s airport trying to board a U.S. military plane as it took off. Dramatic video showed civilians clinging to the fuselage and landing gear of the C-17 transport plane, and at least one person was seen plummeting back to the ground after the plane took off.

The mayhem inside the airport grounds forced the U.S. military, which controls the airport but not the ground just outside it, to halt evacuation flights for hours. Since the chaos of Monday, more U.S. forces have been flown in to secure the airport, with a contingent of about 6,000 expected in the coming days. As of Thursday, about 7,000 people had been evacuated by the U.S. airlift operation.

Anwari was one of the thousands of Afghans who came to the airport without any assurance of a place on an evacuation flight. The Taliban has used gunfire and beatings to dissuade Afghans without travel documents from gathering at the airport since the chaos earlier this week, but many were still outside the facility on Friday, desperate to flee their country.

Afghanistan’s General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports mourned Anwari in a post on Facebook, saying the young man was, “endeavoring to leave the country like hundreds of other youth from his country. He has fallen down from the U.S. military plane and lost his life.”

با تاسف و اندوه فراوان اطلاع حاصل نمودیم که ذکی‌انوری یکی از بازیکنان تیم‌ ملی نوجوانان فوتبال کشور در یک حادثه ناگوار…

Posted by ‎ریاست عمومی تربیت بدنی و ورزش‎ on Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Abid told CBS News that aside from his skills on the soccer field, Anwari was a modest student who helped his father as a store assistant.

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Mohammed Zaki Anwari is seen in a file photo posted to his Facebook account. Facebook/Zaki Anwari

“The death of my friend and teammate was tragic and shocking news for me,” he said. “We wanted to represent Afghanistan on the global stage and our footballing future under the Taliban was in jeopardy.”

The deputy media manager for the Afghanistan Football Federation also confirmed Anwari’s death to CBS News.

Shams Amini said Anwari died at the airport “after trying to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover,” but he could not confirm exactly how the young man had died.