Mohammad Nasim knew he would not be searched at the gates of the International Committee of the Red Cross orthopedic center because he was a polio patient who had been going there for 19 years.
“They did not imagine I could do something like this,” he said.
So he made no special effort to hide the Russian-made Tokarev semi-automatic pistol — just tucked it under the shirt of his shalwar kameez and rolled himself down the main corridor in his wheelchair.
Lorena Enebral Perez, a physiotherapist from Spain who had started working there a few days before, stepped into the corridor, headed for the 10 a.m. tea break. She had just finished a session with children; pediatric physiotherapy was her passion.
Nasim went right up to her in his chair. He says he did not know who she was, but guessed — incorrectly — that she was the center’s director. He pulled the pistol out and, without a word, shot her in the heart at nearly point blank range.
“I lost my control. I wasn’t able to think properly,” he said in a recent interview, conducted by telephone from the prison in Mazar-e-Sharif, the northern city where the orthopedic center is located. It was Nasim’s first interview since he shot Enebral on Sept. 11; a lawyer who was present verified his identity.
“I came to my senses and I thought, ‘What did I do?’ because I am a full polio victim and need this center more than anybody,” Nasim said. “No one suffered from this more than I did.”
Enebral, 38, had been working for Red Cross orthopedic centers around Afghanistan for a year and before that had held similar jobs in Malawi, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
“The relationship Lorena had with children was magic,” her colleagues wrote in a tribute later. “Whenever Lorena was around, the environment was radiant.”
Nasim’s attack put at risk a treasured institution run by the Red Cross for nearly three decades, serving thousands of the war wounded in northern Afghanistan. Not only was the orthopedic center closed for two months after the killing, but the agency is looking to transfer it to another group if it can find one willing to take it over.
Nasim struggled to explain what he had done and why. First, he described it as an impulsive act. But he had brought the gun to Mazar-e-Sharif from his home in Baghlan province two days before the shooting, which would have required smuggling it past numerous checkpoints along the way.
Then he claimed the Taliban had forced him to do it, threatening to kill his family if he did not. The Taliban vehemently denied that, praising the work the Red Cross does. In a separate interview, Nasim’s own father, Amin Jan, scoffed at his son’s claim and disowned him.
“I don’t know what made me do this,” Nasim said.
He is far from the only Afghan to have killed a foreigner with no apparent provocation. In 2014, a police officer killed an Associated Press photographer. Another killed three Americans at a hospital. Both told investigators they did not know why they had done it.
Neither had any known Taliban or insurgent connections; nor did Nasim.
While his motivations are murky, Nasim makes no effort to deny his guilt.
“I will go to hell for what I did,” he said. “I should just be killed.”
Nasim has yet to be tried on the murder and terrorism charges he faces. Afghanistan has the death penalty and often uses it.
He has already paid a price. Nasim shares a cell in the Mazar-e-Sharif prison with 40 others. One of his orthotic braces fell off during his arrest and was left behind, as was his wheelchair. In prison, his other brace broke. “Now I am not able to walk any more,” he said, “I just go around on my hands.”
He said he would not ask the Red Cross to fix his braces or return his wheelchair. “I am too ashamed,” he said. Another prisoner had to carry him on his back to traverse the short distance from his cell to the prison’s telephone office for the interview.
Nasim said he was less worried about his own condition than about the Red Cross center’s future.
“I would be ready to die to keep that center open now,” he said. “No one knows more than me how much we are helpless without them.”
Last year, 19,000 people were treated in the Mazar-e-Sharif facility, one of seven Red Cross orthopedic centers around the country. Many of the patients are victims of four decades of war and a landscape riddled with bombs and land mines. Others simply need treatment in a country with poor health care.
Nasim insisted he had no complaints about his treatment at the center.
“The people in this center were like my second mother and father,” he said.
They made and fitted him with orthotic braces on both legs, taught him to walk short distances and coached him through physiotherapy. They built and customized a wheelchair for him to use for longer distances.
The day before he shot Enebral, he arrived at the center to have his orthotic braces repaired and adjusted and also to get his wheelchair checked, as he had been doing since age 2. He is 21 now.
Atiqullah Attiq, a technician who, like most of the center’s staff, is himself disabled, did the orthotics adjustments for Nasim that day and noticed nothing out of the ordinary about his behavior.
“I personally treated him for two years,” said Ahmad Khalid Wahidi, a physiotherapist at the center. “How he could do this, I don’t know.”
On Sept. 11, the door between Attiq’s workshop and the corridor was open. He heard the gunshot and turned to see Enebral staggering toward him.
“She came in and was holding her hands on her chest and there was blood everywhere and she was crying, ‘Ahh! Ahh!’ and fell down dead,” he said.
Afterward, he said, he heard Nasim shout “God is great.” Wahidi, who arrived at that moment, said he heard the same thing.
Nasim denied that and he said he surrendered immediately.
“After firing, I was very agitated,” he said. “I don’t remember anything. I just dropped the gun.”
Wahidi, however, said Nasim’s gun jammed when he pointed it and tried to fire at someone else, and that he then fled in his wheelchair while trying to unjam it. Finally, a relative of a patient jumped on him and overpowered him, knocking the gun away.
Nasim described himself as a devoutly religious man. He had studied in Islamic madrassas, where he managed to memorize the entire Quran, in its original Arabic. Like most Afghans, Nasim does not speak or understand Arabic.
Afghans who achieve that feat of memorization spend years doing it and are rewarded with a special place in society, the title “qari,” and are often exempted from work and supported by donations from admirers.
Nasim was asked whether his study of the Quran had shaped his views on killing an unarmed civilian in cold blood.
“I don’t know the meaning of the Quran. I can just recite it,” he said, then laughed. “I don’t know what the Quran says about such an act, but I know the act was something bad.”
Many of the patients at the orthopedic center were angry at him, and fearful about their future.
“If this place weren’t here, we would just be like a dead body,” said Dur Mohammed, 45, a big man who lost a leg to a mortar shell and now works for an advocacy group for the disabled. “If I were here when it happened, he wouldn’t have left this place alive,” he added. “He just did that because she wasn’t a Muslim.”
Zakirullah Rahim, 35, a regular patient who comes for physiotherapy for a spinal injury and who overlapped with Nasim over the years, said: “Only an idiot would do what he did. She was a foreigner, but she was helping us. So she was not a Muslim, but she was helping Muslims.”
“How can I be proud of killing someone who is serving us?” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.