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'I'm scared they are going to take my relatives': Local Afghans anxiously watch government disintegrate

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Posted at 5:53 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 18:16:56-04

LAKEWOOD, Ohio — The quick collapse of the Afghan government and military that played out in real time over the past week has sparked fear and concern for many refugees that have settled in Northeast Ohio, many of whom still have loved ones living in the war-torn country.

Azim Abdul Alim, the owner of Ohio Kabob Grill on West 117th Street in Cleveland's West Park neighborhood, is a native of Kabul, the capital and largest city in Afghanistan. After spending five years as a chef at the US Embassy in Kabul, Abdul Alim came to the United States in 2010 after a short stint in Russia. He became a United States citizen about five years ago.

Abdul Alim said he was terrified, frustrated, shocked and saddened as he watched the Taliban streak across Afghanistan, taking provincial capital after provincial capital before descending on his native Kabul.

"We are surprised how the military stopped and gave Afghanistan without fighting, without even one day or two days of fighting. They just gave them Kabul," Abdul Alim said. "They gave them the other states. I's unbelievable. The Taliban is not supporting people and not taking care of people. They are killing a lot of people, especially people working for the US Army, who worked for US Embassy or any other countries. They will kill them, behead them."

Abdul Alim said he has been in constant communication with his family members still living in Afghanistan, all of whom continue to grow more fearful by the hour.

"My family said [the Taliban] are coming to the house. They are asking for any family or if your brother, if your fathers are working for the Afghan military or anybody working for the US military, [the Taliban says] they have to find out [where they went]," Abdul Alim said. "[The Taliban] are not [good] people. They are not [good] Muslim people. They are just named Muslim; their hearts aren't Muslim."

Abdul Alim, who supports his family still living in Afghanistan by sending money back regularly, said one of the most difficult aspects of the recent turmoil is the lack of recourse that he has. He can't travel there and fight. He can't lead a rescue mission. He can't lead them across the border into a neighboring country and get them to safety.

Abdul Alim hasn't seen his family in close to two decades and, now, he worries he might not ever be able to.

"We are waiting for good news one day or we could be waiting for very bad news one day. We don't know," Abdul Alim said. "I'm scared maybe one day [the Taliban] are going to take my brother. Maybe they are going to take my sister, maybe my relatives, my cousin. We don't know honestly."