Abdul Samad Amiri, an Afghan human rights defender, with his daughter. He was found Thursday shot to death. (Family photo)

The last time Musa Mahmodi saw his friend alive, the young human rights defender said he knew his life was at risk. 

It was August in Kabul, and Abdul Samad Amiri, 28, had recently traveled the 10 hours east to the capital from his home province of Ghowr, where persistent threats from the Taliban and local militias had created an increasingly volatile environment. 

“The Taliban was everywhere there, and I was so scared,” Mahmodi, Amiri’s former boss at Afghanistan’s governmental Independent Human Rights Commission, recalled Amiri saying about his journey. 

Weeks later, on the same road, Amiri was found shot dead, according to Wardak province police spokesman Hekmatullah Durani. The Taliban has not commented publicly on the attack, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Friday that the militants were responsible for his killing and that it amounted to “a crime against humanity.” 

Amiri’s violent death last week came amid a spike in Taliban violence in the days after the top U.S. negotiator in peace talks with the group said the two sides had reached an agreement “in principle.” On Saturday evening, President Trump unexpectedly called off the talks, saying in a tweet he had canceled plans to “secretly meet” with Ghani and Taliban leaders at Camp David on Sunday over concerns of escalating violence, including a bombing that killed a U.S. service member in Kabul on Thursday. 

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted on Sunday that an agreement between U.S. and Taliban officials had been “finalized” in recent days and the Qatari government planned to announce it, seeming to contradict Trump’s claims. “President Trump’s tweets have been unbelievable and certainly damaged his credibility,” he wrote. 

In recent days, Afghan officials and civilians have expressed concerns that a U.S. deal with the Taliban that excluded the Afghan government would fail to protect civilians and security forces in the event of a U.S. troop drawdown. 

Amiri’s killing left his community in Afghanistan reeling over the loss of someone they said was a devoted family man and an energetic, selfless advocate for justice — someone who represented the best of what his generation had to offer.

As acting head of the commission’s office in Ghowr, Amiri was aware of the risks his work posed. The commission promotes women’s rights and religious freedoms, and training defense forces and religious scholars in human rights. He had worked extensively on reports about civilian killings in his home region and was responsible for looking into incidents suspected to be perpetrated by the Taliban.

That work made him a target of the militant group, which governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and has been fighting the Afghan government and allied forces ever since. The Taliban’s rule was marked by a repressive interpretation of Islamic law that restricted the rights of women and minorities.

Four members of the commission for which Amiri worked have been killed in recent years, including a former head of the same office in Ghowr. 

And just last week, Amnesty International reported that human rights defenders in Afghanistan are “under intensifying attacks from both the authorities and armed groups.” 

“This is one of the most dangerous moments to be a human rights activist in Afghanistan,” Amnesty International’s deputy South Asia director, Omar ­Waraich, said in a statement at the time, pointing to others who had been targeted for their work. 

After Amiri’s death, Amnesty said his killing was “a war crime.”

Amiri had recently considered moving to the United States, Mahmodi said, but had changed his mind, compelled to instead continue his investigations in Ghowr and support his sisters’ dreams of graduating from university. 

In a phone call from India, where she is studying for a master’s degree, his younger sister Atifa said that she was in shock from the news of his death. 

Boys’ education is often prioritized over that of girls in Afghanistan. But Amiri helped her with chores so she could take college prep courses, she said, then supported her when she decided to pursue further education abroad. 

“He was not only a brother, he was a friend and supporter,” she said. “I can’t be happy anymore. I am hopeless.”

He was recently married, and his wife had just given birth to a baby girl. In a photo his sister shared on social media, he cradles his daughter close to his face, beaming with pride. 

Amiri’s killing and a spate of attacks in Kabul in recent days have left civilians here on edge. Last week, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a Kabul compound housing foreigners that left 16 people, mainly Afghan civilians, dead. On Thursday, the group bombed a busy traffic circle in the capital, killing 10 Afghan civilians and two NATO troops, including an American. 

Amiri belonged to the minority Hazara ethnic group, a frequent target of Taliban attacks, making him an even more likely mark. In Kabul, members of the Hazara community, most of whom practice Shiite Islam, are bracing for an upcoming holiday, fearing mosques and public gatherings could be targeted. 

Mahmodi said that as an impartial human rights investigator, Amiri would often attend to the immediate aftermath of serious crimes, risking his own life to ensure justice for the victims. “He was the first to send a report and call an investigator and say, okay, this happened,” Mahmodi said.

And he took notice of worrying incidents that others often overlooked — launching, for example, an investigation into an increase in women’s suicides in his province. 

“His investigations were thorough, his work was very good quality, his reports were credible,” Mahmodi said. “Everything he was doing was very good, and he was also so personally dedicated.”

An ardent reader and excellent student, Amiri earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Kabul University before pursuing a career in human rights advocacy, said Khodayar Naiebzada, a childhood friend. 

In his hometown, Naiebzada said, “the people were proud of him and counted on him.” 

In a Facebook post last week, Amiri shared a photo of himself standing on a mountaintop in Ghowr. In the caption below, he reflected on how much he’d grown in the seven years since
he graduated from university. Through his work and travels, he said, he had gained a better understanding of “the trauma of 40 years of war.” 

“I believe that we have obligations to our mother country, and whatever I do for my country, though insufficient to what I owe, makes me happy,” he wrote. “Despite the difficulties, I owe my life to this land and will work for its betterment so long as I live.” 

He was killed shortly after.