Assault rifle-wielding Taliban soldiers mix with families in the Kabul Zoo, an unusual event for many of the young Afghan insurgents from the countryside.
A group of highly armed Taliban fighters watches over picnickers eating ice cream and salted pomegranate seeds as they set up their blankets and spread out their food in the sheltered areas of the park.
Many soldiers had never been inside a huge city when they invaded the capital after years of battle in the countryside.
When one of them grabs a deer by its antlers and his pals yell with glee, the relative calmness is upended suddenly.
Posing for Photographs While Holding Rifles
Numerous armed Taliban members — as well as many others without weapons — gather after Friday prayers wearing traditional caps, turbans, and shawls. Eye makeup, popular among Afghan guys, was worn by a few.
Abdul Qadir, 40, a former Taliban member who now works for the interior ministry, claimed he was out sight-seeing with a group of male friends when the attack occurred.
He says he like animals in particular those native to his nation. "I am a huge fan of lions."
He said the Taliban were in favour of keeping guns out of the zoo so that "children or ladies should not feel terrified," when questioned about the unusually large number of armed guards.
For many years, the zoo served as a refuge for women, children, and young lovers in a city where there is little open space for anyone but men.
Six armed Taliban operatives from the intelligence directorate pose for a team photo with a turbaned mullah while dressed in full military fatigues, battle webbing loaded with ammunition, steel handcuffs, and peaked caps.
The photographer in charge plans and executes the shot, which the rest of the team inspects extensively afterward.
One of the Taliban fighters, with a flag protruding from his ammunition pouch, gives a thumbs up to indicate their approval.
Later, a new gang of assailants offers weapons to children as young as eight, who take pictures with their cell phones.
'No Guns Allowed In The Zoo,' the sign reads.
The star of the show is a white lion named "White Lion" who rests on a deck in its 20-by-30-meter enclosure.
At the time of his death in 2002, Marjan the lion, who was a symbol of Afghan survival over the country's coups, invasions, civil war, and initial Taliban rule, was the zoo's most treasured inhabitant.
Visitors are greeted by a bronze statue of the large cat, which was injured in a grenade attack and has a plaque reading: "Marjan, who died at the age of 23 years ago, is buried here. He was the most well-known lion in the world."
Women in niqabs, burqas, and hijabs lead young girls and boys around the tanks in the aquarium and reptile house, which is also a popular destination.
Fish, turtles, and goldfish live in tanks surrounding the glass enclosure where the python is coiled.
Samir, who is currently in Kabul, is visiting the zoo with his little son and nephew while awaiting his return to London, where he currently resides.
Since the Taliban took over in mid-August, he adds, they've had "a very terrible time."
"We weren't prepared for the Taliban's rapid arrival, which surprised us. Kabul seems quiet, but the fact is that with the current situation, people do not feel safe.
Entry to the Kabul Zoo, nestled between high hills and the Kabul River, costs 40 cents for Afghans, while some Taliban soldiers stroll in without paying, flagrantly defying the sign proclaiming "The Zoo is a gun-free zone.
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