- Sardar Ahmad was one of Afghanistan's most prominent journalists
- The father of three was at a restaurant with wife, children when gunmen opened fire
- Ahmad, his wife and two children were killed; another child is in a coma
- Taliban claim responsibility for the attack, which killed nine people at Kabul's Serena Hotel
From a small office in downtown Kabul with views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance, a man sobs as he stares at a photograph pinned to the chair of where his uncle used to sit.
"Where are you, Sardar? You will never come back. What should we do?" pleads Taraj Ahmad as tears roll down his face. Until a few days ago, this was the workplace of Sardar Ahmad, one of Afghanistan's most prominent journalists, who was a senior reporter for Agence France-Presse.
The 40-year-old father of three was sharing a meal with his wife and children at Kabul's luxurious and heavily fortified Serena Hotel last Thursday night, celebrating Norwuz -- the Persian New Year -- when four gunmen opened fire in the restaurant.
Hotel staff say that when the young militants dressed in traditional garb pulled out their pistols, Ahmad's wife pleaded with them to kill her and not her family. Instead, at point-blank range, they shot all of them in the head, killing Ahmad; his wife, Homaira; their 6-year-old daughter, Nilofar; and their 4-year son, Omar.
The only survivor is 2-year-old Abuzar, who is in a coma with gunshot wounds to the head. "Four days ago, Abuzar was playing on my lap. Today, he is in a coma. But I'm praying that he will also die. What's the point of him living?" cries Taraj Ahmad, Sardar's nephew. "If he survives, what do I tell him? That his family was all murdered? But this baby is a fighter. That's why he's still alive. Sardar will live on in him."
The brutal attack that claimed nine lives -- four of them foreigners -- raises serious questions about the state of security in Afghanistan's capital, with a presidential election less than two weeks away. Authorities are still trying to work out how the insurgents were able to get past security and metal detectors with the pistols and ammunition concealed in their socks and shoes. But the Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the shooting, have vowed to use force to disrupt the April 5 election.
Suicide bombings are increasing around the country, and earlier this month, Swedish journalist Nils Horner was gunned down in broad daylight on a busy street in the capital.
"Two weeks ago, Sardar was talking to his friend about the Swedish journalist. He was very saddened by his murder," Taraj Ahmad said. "He told his friend, 'What if we face such a day and lose our life in such a cowardly attack?' He would think, 'If I'm killed, what will happen to my family?' Two weeks later, he's killed. It's unbelievable."
Ahmad was a passionate journalist who cared deeply for his country. He had family members living in Canada who encouraged him to leave Afghanistan and move overseas. But he wouldn't hear a word of it.
"He'd tell us it wasn't time to leave, that there was still so much work to do to improve Afghanistan," said Esmat Kohsar, who worked in the same office as Ahmad. "He was so kind and had so much love for this country and for journalism. He wanted to make a difference; he had big dreams. He wanted to improve Afghanistan. It wasn't his time for him to die; this country needed him. This is the biggest shock for us."
With a heavy heart, trying to hold back tears, Kohsar said, "I felt like my father died. I was just wishing that I had died instead of him. This country is worse off now that Sardar Ahmad is no longer in it."