But the victims shared something in common: a desire to leave their country and the brutality and uncertainty of life under their new Taliban rulers. Such was their desperation to board a flight out of Kabul that they arrived despite public warnings that the airport was a possible target of the Islamic State.
Here are portraits of a few of them:
ALI REZA AHMADI
Ali Reza Ahmadi, 36, had fled the Taliban before. When the group first seized Kabul in 1996, he escaped as a child to Iran, where he grew up as a refugee and graduated from high school. He returned to Kabul after the Taliban was toppled from power in 2001. He enrolled at Kabul University, graduating with a degree in journalism in 2013.
“When we were studying and discussing under trees on Kabul University’s campus, we never thought we would be here today,” said Basir Ebadi, a classmate and friend of Ahmadi. “Ali Reza was the hopeful one. He imagined an Afghanistan free of violence.”
As the Taliban gradually expanded its control over the country, Ahmadi co-founded a news agency, Raha News Agency, and worked as a freelance reporter for local media outlets.
When the Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15, Ahmadi lost hope. In the first week of the group’s rule, Ahmadi wrote in a Facebook post that he had sold off 60 of his books for 50 Afghani (less than $1). He wanted to flee the country.
“He wanted to save his life,” said Ebadi, who spoke with Ahmadi a few days ago. “He encouraged me to pack my bags and flee the country. He said that the Taliban would censor us if they do not kill us now. He said this place is no longer a place for living.”
Ahmadi had no documents for boarding an evacuation flight. Still, he decided on Thursday to try his luck, along with his 33-year-old brother, Mujtaba. They carried their passports and national ID — and the hope that they could somehow enter the airport’s gate and hop on to a flight to freedom.
Ali’s body was unrecognizable after the blast. Mujtaba is still missing.
“We never thought we would lose [Ali] in this brutal way,” said Ebadi. “He had dreams and hopes.”
QURBAN ALI FAIAZY
In his Facebook bio, he lived in Paris. But in reality, Qurban Ali Faiazy, 21, was stuck in Kabul. Residing in Paris was a lifelong dream, said his relatives.
After graduating from high school in 2018, Faiazy borrowed money and smuggled himself into Iran, eventually ending up in Turkey. He worked as a tailor, sending money back to Kabul every month to help support his family.
He applied for asylum through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But his application never progressed. So in May, Faiazy returned to Kabul.
“Qurban was very calm and very self-reliant,” said Mohammad Taqi Allahyar, 41, a relative. “But he was in a confusing situation.”
When Kabul fell to the Taliban this month, hope for a prosperous life vanished for Faiazy. But when the U.S. military started evacuating American citizens and green-card holders, another opportunity came up. Faiazy’s brother, who had an American green card, managed to procure documents permitting his wife, daughter, their mother and Faiazy to board a U.S. military flight out of Afghanistan.
Faiazy’s dream of living in Paris once again became a possibility.
On Thursday, he arrived at the airport with his 60-year-old mother, sister-in-law and niece. They made their way to the Abbey Gate entrance of the airport.
Faiazy had prepared himself for a new future. “He took a shower, shaved and wore new clothes,” said Allahyar. “He was so happy that it looked like he was going to a wedding. It became his last trip.”
The family was waiting near the gate when the Islamic State suicide bomber struck.
“Qurban was on the street for at least three hours bleeding,” said Allahyar. “The Taliban had blocked the roads, the American forces were firing, and there was no ambulance to evacuate the wounded and dead people.”
Faiazy died in a wheelbarrow.
Wasiq Ehsan was a year old when the Taliban regime collapsed in 2001. He grew up in a nation at war. After graduating from high school, he attended Kabul University, where he was an accomplished student of Spanish.
“Wasiq used to tell me: ’You live once, you must live it well,” said Hamid Aslami, 23, his neighbor and close friend. “He wanted to achieve his dreams one by one.”
Ehsan’s dream was to travel abroad to achieve his two main goals: becoming a graphic designer and a professional soccer player. The swift capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban shattered those hopes. He had initially thought the Taliban might treat people better this time, but he quickly saw he couldn’t trust them, Aslami said.
Ehsan’s 19-year-old sister, Najma Sediqi worked for a television station. She had documents to prove that she and her family were in danger. So on Wednesday, Ehsan, his sister and another relative went to the airport carrying their belongings, hoping the U.S. and other foreign troops would put them in a flight. But they were prevented from reaching the gates due to the massive crowds.
They tried again on Thursday. A relative had informed them that there were fewer crowds and that they had a good chance of getting to the gate to show their documents.
“Wasiq and his sister told their mother: ‘Look at us as much as you can because today we either go abroad and or get killed,’” recalled Aslami, who often helped Ehsan with his school studies. “It turned out to be true.”
Ehsan, his sister and their relative, also in his twenties, were killed in the blast. Another relative was wounded.
“He died with all his dreams unfulfilled,” said Aslami, sobbing. “All the dreams he had told me.”
“This past week has been like a nightmare,” he continued. “First the Taliban, now the loss of Wasiq.”
MOHAMMAD JAN SULTANI
Mohammad Jan Sultani, 25, grew up in one of Kabul’s poorest neighborhoods. The martial art of Taekwondo was his way out of that poverty. He was 13 when he joined a Taekwondo club, and as he grew up, as he won tournaments, his father and his trainer said, he realized it was his lifeline to a better future. But even as Sultani practiced for hours each week, he was also attending school and working at a mechanic’s shop as an apprentice.
Sultani won some 30 medals, mostly gold and silver, in national and international tournaments.
“Mohammad Jan rose to join the national teenage team of Taekwondo and later on the youth team of Taekwondo,” said Wahidullah Bayat, who trained Sultani from an early age. “He was such a hard-working person.”
At the same time, Sultani was committed to his family. As an only son, he married at 19 and worked as a mechanic and most recently as a Taekwondo instructor to help feed his family. Despite economic hardship, he viewed helping his family as his duty, his responsibility.
But the hardships never beat him down. He still was winning medals and determined to pave a path toward a new life.
After the Taliban seized Kabul this month, Sultani had a brief conversation with his father about fleeing Afghanistan. He was worried that the world would not recognize the Taliban government and that the country would become a pariah state.
“I discouraged him from trying” his luck on the evacuation flights, said Mohammad Ali Rahmani, his father.
But on Thursday morning, Sultani took his wife and two children — a 4-year son and a 2-year old daughter — and went to the airport without informing his father or other relatives.
At some point, far from the airport gates, Sultani told his family to wait. He walked alone toward Abbey Gate, vanishing into the crowd, according to his family. Then, the explosion rocked the area. Sultani never returned.
The next day the family went to the airport and found his battered corpse. He had also been shot several times, they said, but it was unclear who was responsible.
“Mohammad Jan had become a trainer of our sports club,” Bayat said. “It is such a big loss for our team, the national team of taekwondo. It was extremely heartbreaking to see his dead body, bleeding from bullets and the explosives.”
For the family, losing Sultani also means losing income. Rahmani, who suffers from lumbago, which causes pain in the muscles and joints of the lower back, is now the family’s sole provider. He had worked throughout his life to raise Sultani, and hoped that his only son would one day take care of him and his family, according to tradition.
“He was my eyes, back and hand,” said Rahmani. “He was my everything.”