The Strange and Unsavory Tale of Keramuddin Keram

How the Afghan security forces failed to catch a predator and lied about it

During the evening of Sunday, August 23, a convoy of Afghan security forces traveled to a village near Panjshir Province’s capital, Bazarak. There, they attempted to arrest a truly sordid figure: Keramuddin Keram, formerly a Panjshir Province governor, Ministry of Defense Chief of Staff, and head of the Afghan soccer federation. Keram, accused of a litany of rape, assault, and sexual abuse charges, had been barred by FIFA from competing in the sport for life and fined about a million dollars in 2019. Since then, he’s been holed up in a steep river valley in Panjshir, nestled among his ethnic compatriots in a firmly Tajik stronghold.

Keramuddin Keram in Zurich in 2014. On Saturday, FIFA, the governing body of global soccer, barred him for life and fined him about $1 million.

Keram at a FIFA event, by Stuart Franklin/FIFA, via Getty Images

The Afghan central government decided over the weekend that they had had enough of Keram being a fugitive and launched an operation to track him down, arrest him, and bring him back to Kabul. However, when the convoy of security forces deployed, sirens blaring, toward the village outside Bazarak, they found an angry mob waiting for them at a hastily-erected checkpoint.

Checkpoint is here, just north of Bazarak.

A tense standoff ensued before the crowd, kicking, striking, and breaking the glass in the government vehicles, forced the convoy to turn around, sans Keram. Later, Keram’s supporters released photos of him to prove that he had not been arrested and remained free.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Interior spokesman said that the operation failed not because of the mob, but because Keram was “not at the scene” of the raid.

However, a close examination of the photos released by Keram’s supporters reveals that, contrary to the Interior Ministry’s statement, not only did Karam visit the checkpoint where his loyal crowd turned back the authorities, he was also at the checkpoint either during the raid or very shortly thereafter.

This detail hinges on three features shared by the photos of Keram released by his supporters and the videos of the angry mob forcing the government forces to turn around: a poster on a roadside building, the construction of the building itself, and some overhead wires.

The photos shared by Keram’s supporters and the video of the security forces being turned around show the exact same blue-green poster with black lettering and a teal blob on the left side. Second, the poster is fixed to an open-sided, wooden structure on the roadside with a roof braced by timber girders.

Inset from photo shared by Keram’s supporters showing the poster (yellow) and the structure’s roof (orange).

Screengrab displaying the same poster (yellow) and structure (orange) from the video of the government convoy making a rapid about-face.

In case those specifics aren’t enough of a smoking gun, Keram’s supporters’ photos and the videos of the authorities turning around both also show three power or telephone wires strung over the road.

Photo of Keram’s vehicle released by Keram’s supporters showing the three wires over the road.

Screengrab from a video of the authorities’ failed raid showing the three overhead wires.

We now know that Keram was at the checkpoint the Afghan government said he definitively was not at, but how can we be sure that his appearance at the checkpoint wasn’t him dropping by hours or days later to thank his supporters for having his back? For one, because the composition of the crowd between when the government forces turned back and when Keram appeared is virtually identical.

There are at least three people in the crowd seen wearing the exact same clothes and accessories between the two events. In this photo of Keram thanking his supporters, note the three people (in addition to Keram) marked below.

In the videos showing the crowd forcing the security forces to turn around, the same three characters are present!

While it’s not clear that the videos showing the convoy turning around and the pictures of Keram at the checkpoint were taken at the exact same time, the appearance of the same three people in both events make it substantially more likely that Keram was, if not present at the checkpoint when the crowd attacked the government vehicles, at least extremely close by.

Other reports about the operation to capture Keram indicated that there may have been a second, overnight raid that targeted his home village of Sangana, up the road from the checkpoint.

I don’t want to make any assumptions about that operation and, if the Interior Ministry spokesman was referring to that raid as the one in which the security forces couldn’t find Keram, he may well have been right. However, his statement leaves out the full truth, which is that Keram was within spitting distance of the convoy of government vehicles sent to arrest him when they were forced to turn back. And, even if he wasn’t in Sangana village when the forces came to arrest him later that night, we know from his appearance at the checkpoint that he was not far away.

Whether Keram was near or far from the checkpoint, present or absent, one raid or two, the fact remains that the Afghan security apparatus badly botched an operation to arrest a serial sexual predator, meaning his victims will go longer without seeing him face the justice he deserves.