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Jason Motlagh

Jason Motlagh is an award-​winning writer, photographer, and filmmaker. Formerly Time magazine’s Kabul correspondent, he has reported from more than forty countries and is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, Economist, and VQR. In 2010, he won the National Magazine Award for Digital News Reporting for “Sixty Hours of Terror,” a four-​part series in VQR on the Mumbai terror attacks. He has since founded Blackbeard Films, an Oakland, California-​based company that produces news documentaries for the Al Jazeera English and America networks.


Coppelia’s main parlor.

Ice Cream, Socialized

Spring 2015 | Reporting

Fidel Castro rejected his northern neighbors. But for a lifelong dairy lover who’d grown up on a farm in the Oriente province, ice cream proved harder to resist.

Lutfer Rahman holds the document that his daughter found next to the body of his wife, Rina Rahman, confirming her death in the collapse. (All photographs by Jason Motlagh)

The Ghosts of Rana Plaza

Spring 2014 | Reporting

In Bangladesh, one year after the worst accident in the history of the garment industry, recovery remains a fragile process, justice seems elusive, and reform has a long way to go.

Hal Needham takes a smoke break at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Famous for his death-defying feats, Needham was an industry pioneer who broke more than fifty-six bones while becoming the highest-paid stuntman in the world.

Falling for the Stars

Winter 2013 | Reporting

Donaldson is a professional stuntman, the guy who doubles for brand-name stars too valuable to a production to do the real stunts, despite what many of them like to claim. The car hit. The high fall. The naked burn. With the right team and preparation, he’ll do almost anything so long as he gets to return to his quiet ranch house in the canyon country north of Los Angeles, and no one is lurking in the bushes with a camera.

The Bombing at Bala Baluk

Spring 2010 | Reporting

Are errant air strikes and night raids jeopardizing American efforts in Afghanistan? A boy stands outside a bombed-out mosque in Granai. (Guy Smallman)The burn ward at Herat regional hospital is the best public facility of its kind in Afghanistan. It [...]

Sixty Hours of Terror: “By the Grace of Allah”

November 19, 2009 | Reporting

Editor’s Note—This is the last in a four-part series [1, 2, 3, 4] on the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

V. "By the Grace of Allah"

A man slides down a rope from a large helicopter onto the roof of a building.
An Indian commando rappels from a helicopter during the final assault on Nariman House (Pedro Ugarte / AFP / Getty Images).

November 28. 7:23 A.M. Nariman House.

To the thump of rotor blades from an MI-17 helicopter, a line of NSG commandos readied to slither down a hanging rope to the roof of Nariman House. Alert to their movement, the gunmen tried to get a shot off from the windows but were foiled by snipers’ cover fire, which blasted what glass remained from the upper-floor windows. Intercepts of their phone calls made in the middle of the night indicated that all of the hostages had been executed. The gunmen had abandoned negotiation, so the only move left was a final assault on the building. Again, the approach was top-down: assault from the roof and force the gunmen toward the exits where additional commandos were waiting.

A man slides down a rope from a large helicopter onto the roof of a building.
A commando slides toward the roof of Nariman House (Vinukumar Ranganathan).

Indian television crews were carrying everything live, and Imran’s handlers in Pakistan were watching, reporting what they could see.

Handler: Fifteen men have climbed down on your rooftop right now.

Imran: They are standing in front of the windows as well.

Handler: What are you saying? Can you see anything there?

Imran: They are firing in the front.

For several heated minutes, the gunman and the handler debated a strategy to protect their position. Another man abruptly took the phone.

Handler 2: You do this. Go towards the roof, throw a grenade at them; and fire at them before they can fire at you. Do this now, in the name of Allah.

Imran: Okay, we will go, remembering the name of Allah.

Handler 2: Bismillah-e-Rehman-e-Rahim.


Sixty Hours of Terror

A policeman on patrol as seen through a bullet hole in the window of the Re-Fresh snack bar at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images). I. Ten Gunmen, Ten Minutes November 26, 2008. 9:40 P.M. Chhatrapati Shivaji Termin [...]

Sixty Hours of Terror: “No Hostages Should Remain Alive”

November 18, 2009 | Reporting

Editor’s Note—This is part three of a four-part series [1, 2, 3, 4] on the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

An ornate, castle-like hotel is on fire, a cloud of black smoke rising to meet the blue sky. In the foreground, a flock of birds flies by.
The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in flames (Priyam Dhar).

IV. “No Hostages Should Remain Alive”

1 A.M. Kasab Interrogation: Part I

Ajmal Kasab spoke before a question was asked: “I have committed a big mistake.”

He lay flat on the hospital mattress, a brown blanket covering his naked body from feet to chest. His hair was wet with sweat. Gauze bandages swathed his arms from wrists to biceps, but the girth of his forearms suggested a solid build. Another patch covered the right side of his neck. Exposed was a gash on his clean-shaven chin. His eyes were squeezed shut as the police interrogator, standing at the edge of the bed, introduced himself to the prisoner and the video camera that was rolling.

“On whose insistence?”

“At the behest of Chacha.” The mysterious Uncle Zaki.

“Who is this Uncle?”

“The one from Lashkar.”

“Lashkar what? Which village is he from?”

“I don’t know about his village. But he has an office . . . He keeps visiting the office.”

“Who sent you here?”

“My father said we were very poor . . . Our condition would improve . . . We will have food to eat, clothes to wear.”

“Was he your real father?” the interrogator asked

“Real father . . . real father,” Kasab mumbled.

“What’s your name?”

“Ajmal Kasab.”

“What’s your age?”


“Where is your village?”

“Faridkot”—in the Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The interrogator asked about his family background. Where his father lived and worked, his siblings and their occupations. His surname, Kasab, meant butcher, he explained, but no one was involved in that line of work anymore. He said he quit school years ago and had since taken menial jobs in construction.

Some time in 2007, he said his father took him to Uncle Zaki to work for him. His aggrieved tone of voice implied that he was either forced or misled into doing so. “Uncle Zaki would say, ‘Work with me. You will bring a good name to your family. You will get money. It is Allah’s work.’”

“What happened next?”

“He told my father to leave me in the office. From then on I was in Allah’s custody.”

Kasab said he, along with about twenty-five other recruits, began training in winter, shortly after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Their trainers were hardened men who demonstrated how to use grenades, Kalashnikov rifles, and handguns. He said he only knew one other person there.

“Where were you supposed to go after today’s incident?”

“Nowhere. We were meant to die.”


Sixty Hours of Terror: “It’s Do or Die”

November 17, 2009 | Reporting

Editor’s Note—This is part two of a four-part series [1, 2, 3, 4] on the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

A line of khaki-wearing police officers stands a hundred yards back from an ornate, castle-like hotel. Smoke comes from one window, and it looks parts of the building are on fire.
Police gathered outside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower (Priyam Dhar).

III. “It’s Do or Die”

November 26, 2008. Late Night. Nariman House.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Isaque Bagwan was sitting down for a late dinner at his Colaba home, his hair still wet from a shower, when the phone rang: gunmen were shooting up the Leopold Café. He grabbed his revolver and ran out to his car.

En route to the restaurant he heard an explosion in the near distance. The noise told Bagwan it was a bomb. One of the gunmen had hidden an explosive under a vehicle at the Express Petroleum station on Colaba causeway; its timer had triggered. Pump manager Ram Bhuwal Yadav, having locked himself inside his office after hearing the nearby gunfire, was thrown to the ground. Afraid the pumps would catch fire, Yadav sprinted outside; everyone was running away from the scene. Within seconds, Bagwan received another phone call from his superior, who directed him to reroute to the Jewish center at Nariman House, around the corner from the scene of the blast. Expecting the worst, the decorated veteran made a quick stop at the police station to rouse a dozen constables who brought .303 bolt-action service rifles with them.


A policeman on patrol as seen through a bullet hole in the window of the Re-Fresh snack bar at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (URIEL SINAI / GETTY IMAGES).

Sixty Hours of Terror

November 16, 2009 | Reporting

Fernandes stole a look at the scene below. Bodies lay scattered on the station floor, slicked in blood. The gunmen scanned and swiveled. They shot from the hip, in steady bursts. On any other day, Fernandes would have taken them for college boys on their way home. These were no students, though. The ease with which they wielded their weapons amid the panic betrayed a professional’s mien.