It was just after 7am when the car carrying Colonel Saba Sahar, one of Afghanistan’s most senior female police officers, came under fire from armed insurgents. In the back seat, Sahar’s four-year-old daughter began screaming as bullets shattered the windscreen and ripped into the upholstery. As she pushed her child under the seat in front of her, Sahar saw three men carrying AK-47 assault rifles, firing as they approached the car.

In the front of the car her bodyguard and driver had both been hit and were badly injured and unconscious. Looking down, Sahar saw blood seeping through her clothing. “It took me another moment to realise I’d been shot too,” she says. She knew that she only had minutes to try to save her daughter. “They were five or six metres away, and they were moving closer to the car, still firing. They would have killed my child,” she says. Bleeding heavily from five shots to her stomach, Sahar reached forward, grabbed the gun from her slumped bodyguard and started returning fire.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Sahar’s husband, Emal Zaki, was getting their older children ready for school when he heard the gunfire. Wondering whether she could see what was happening on the road ahead, he dialled his wife’s number while he helped his children tie their school shoes.

“When she picked up the phone she was still firing at the insurgents,” he says. Through the sound of cracking bullets, Sahar screamed that she was injured and told him to call for help. By the time he reached her car a few minutes later, the gunmen had fled. He found his wife clutching the gun in one hand and their daughter in the other. “I have never seen so much blood in my life,” he says.

Sahar and family
Sahar and family. She saved her four-year-old daughter from gunmen who attacked them. Photograph: Farzana Wahidy/The Guardian

Dragging the bodyguard and driver into the family car, they sped through the streets to the hospital. “My wife stayed conscious until she was sure our daughter was safe and then she passed out,” says Zaki.

Sahar knows she is lucky to be alive.

Read full story on The Guardian