Lorena Enebral Perez, 38, of Spain had been in Afghanistan for more than a year, working at different Red Cross rehabilitation centres
THE NEW YORK TIMES | September 12, 2017
Lorena Enebral Perez, 38, was shot on Monday in the Red Cross hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, where she worked as a physiotherapist. MONICA BARNABÉ/INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS
KABUL, Afghanistan — He was a polio patient, for 19 of his 21 years receiving treatment at an orthopedic centre in northern Afghanistan run by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The organization’s seven rehabilitation centres around the country are often the last hope for a new leg or arm for the thousands who have lost legs and arms the long war.
She was an experienced physiotherapist with more than a decade of humanitarian work, on her first mission in the country. Her specialty: the patient work of helping children, men, and women with disabilities learn how to walk again.
Shortly after 10 Monday morning, he arrived in a wheelchair, supposedly for another therapy session. Instead he pulled out a Russian pistol and fired one shot.
The physiotherapist was struck in the chest — a fatal wound.
In an emotional statement, the Red Cross identified the therapist as Lorena Enebral Perez, 38, of Spain. She had been in Afghanistan for more than a year, shuttling between the organization’s different centres in the north and west. Now she has become the latest reminder of the risks to humanitarian workers in Afghanistan as the violence in the country intensifies.
“Energetic and full of laughter, Lorena was the heart of our office in Mazar,” said the Red Cross’s head of delegation in Afghanistan, Monica Zanarelli, referring to the capital city of Balkh province. “Today, our hearts are broken.”
Zanarelli added: “The violent fluctuations of life seem particularly cruel today.”
Energetic and full of laughter, Lorena was the heart of our office in Mazar
By the end of Monday, only the most basic sketch of the gunman, identified by the police as Mohammed Nasim, 21, had emerged, but little of his motives.
None of the militant groups in Afghanistan, neither the Taliban nor the Islamic State, claimed responsibility.
Gen. Abdul Razaq Qaderi, the deputy police chief of Balkh province, said Nasim, who was arrested, came from neighbouring Baghlan province, from the restive Dand-e-Ghori area, which is largely controlled by the Taliban.
“He was a polio victim and he was under treatment in the hospital since he was 2 years old,” Qaderi said. “He was always coming to the hospital and had visited the day before as well.”
The episode was as brief it was deadly.
You can give a leg, you can give an arm, but if you cannot put together heart and mind and dignity, the job is not done
“He fired only one bullet,” Qaderi said. “After the first bullet, people and the guards tackled him and didn’t allow him to fire more.”
Rais Abdul Khaliq, a member of the Balkh provincial council, said a second man, a patient of 12 years, had been arrested as an accomplice.
“Both had polio and were paralyzed,” Khalid said. “They defamed the name of Afghans. This is a terrorist attack.”
Before arriving in Afghanistan in May 2016, Perez had helped patients with disabilities for years in Malawi, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. “I believe that the quality and warmth in the work I do is essential and one of my most important virtues,” she wrote on her LinkedIn profile.
Her vision seemed to match that of Alberto Cairo, a local icon of sorts who leads the orthopedic service in Afghanistan and was one of the earlier International Red Cross staff members to come here. He arrived in 1989 and has stayed in the country since. Last May, around the time Perez arrived in Afghanistan, she shared a 2014 profile of Cairo on her Facebook page.
“People losing a leg, a limb — sometimes they lose much more than that,” Cairo says. “They lose this self-esteem, they don’t consider themselves complete person anymore. That’s something we have to work very hard for. It’s essential. You can give a leg, you can give an arm, but if you cannot put together heart and mind and dignity, the job is not done.”
The Red Cross is one of the longest-serving medical aid organizations in Afghanistan, for more than three decades making sure lifesaving services reach areas few dare to go. The seven rehabilitation centers around the country provide more than 19,000 artificial legs, arms, and other devices every year. In 2016, about 136,000 patients received physical rehabilitation services at the centers.
As Afghanistan has turned more violent in recent years, space has shrunk for humanitarian work, with movement restricted and staff members often singled out. In February, six of the Red Cross’ Afghan staff members were killed in the north and two were abducted. They were released last week after more than six months of captivity.
“Our staff are humanitarian workers who seek only to improve the lives of victims of war,” the Red Cross statement announcing Perez’s death, said. “We are #NotATarget.”