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AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad fishing in October 2008, near Bamiyan. (Photo: Danny Kemp)

 

KABUL, March 21, 2014 --- Sardar Ahmad, a staff reporter at AFP, has been killed in a Taliban attack on Kabul's Serena hotel. Ahmad, 40, was shot dead along with his wife and two of his three children when four teenage gunmen attacked the hotel on Thursday evening.

Hired in 2003 to cover daily briefings by the US-led coalition at Bagram airbase, Ahmad went on to become AFP's senior reporter in Kabul, covering all aspects of life, war and politics in his native country. He was a specialist in security issues, with strong contacts on both the government and Taliban sides, allowing him to file balanced stories on the complex conflict wracking Afghanistan.

Ahmad was a well-loved and versatile journalist with a great sense of humour and an eye for unexpected stories that opened a window on life in Afghanistan away from the bombs and blast walls. His last feature for AFP, filed on Tuesday, was about a lion rescued by animal welfare officials from living on a rooftop in Kabul -- a follow-up to a story Ahmad himself broke last year.

Outside AFP, Ahmad founded the successful Kabul Pressistan local news agency which provided fixing and translation services for numerous foreign reporters coming to Kabul.

Here is Sardar's final story.

New life for lion who lived on a rooftop


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Marjan the lion at the Kabul zoo, March 18, 2014. (AFP Photo/Shah Marai)

By Sardar Ahmad


KABUL, March 19, 2014 --- Kabul zoo on Tuesday unveiled its new star attraction -- Marjan the lion, who lived on a rooftop in the city until rescued by animal welfare officials last year when close to death.

A businessman in the war-torn Afghan capital had bought the male lion cub as a status symbol for $20,000 and kept his pet on a roof terrace.

But the fast-growing animal was seriously ill when Kabul municipal officials tracked him down last October.

"We found him in a very dire condition. He was almost dead. He couldn't move, he couldn't even raise his head," veterinarian Abdul Qadir Bahawi told AFP.

"We were not sure that he would survive. But our efforts paid off, and he is much better. Now he loves to play with us. I think he loves us a lot."

Marjan is named after a famous half-blind lion who lived at Kabul zoo and became a symbol of Afghanistan's national survival after living through coups, invasions, civil war and the hardline Taliban era before dying in 2002.

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Marjan plays with a keeper and visitors at the zoo. (AFP Photo/Shah Marai)

The first Marjan, born in 1976, was blinded by a grenade thrown by a vengeful soldier whose brother had been killed after entering his cage.

The new Marjan made headlines around the world when AFP found him last year, living on the roof of a compound in the upmarket Taimani district of the capital.

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The statue of the original Marjan, who died in 2002, buried in snow at the zoo entrance, in February 2012. (AFP Photo/Shah Marai)

His owner denied it was cruel and said he was looking after the lion well and feeding him fresh meat daily, but the lion's health declined fast in his unsuitable living quarters.

Government inspectors took him from the owner and started an intense five-month rehabilitation programme at the zoo to bring him back to health, including regular massage and physiotherapy sessions.

"Marjan eats about eight kilos of meat, everyday at 4:00 pm," said Qurban Ali, the lion keeper at the spartan zoo.

"He has been doing very well. He eats a whole cow leg, including the bone."

Marjan looks out from his cage in Afghanistan's Kabul Zoo on March 18, 2014. (AFP Photo/Shah Marai)

Marjan looks out from his cage in Afghanistan's Kabul Zoo on March 18, 2014. (AFP Photo/Shah Marai)

Marjan, who is aged about one, will soon be on show to the public for the first time after moving to a larger enclosure that he will share with a female lion donated by China.

Bahawi plans to see if there is any chance of the two lions mating, but he warned that it looked unlikely.

"Marjan is ready, but she is more than 15 years old and has had two serious operations. I think she is too old," he said.

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