Aussie ISIS survivor Joe McDowell returns to Australia after being shot in Afghanistan

James King
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Joe McDowell survived a terrifying shooting carried out by Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Joe McDowell survived a terrifying shooting carried out by Islamic State in Afghanistan. Credit: Supplied

An Australian survivor of an Islamic State attack in Afghanistan had visited a cemetery of fallen Australian soldiers the day before he was gunned down.

Joe McDowell was among ten casualties of a fatal shooting in the central city of Bamyan last Friday night.

The Nightly has confirmed that he has now returned home to Perth after two successful surgeries in Kabul.

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“I heard this bang, bang, bang and I thought it was just firecrackers”, the 38-year-old shared in an interview with The Nightly.

“I wasn’t too alarmed initially and so I turned around slowly just out of curiosity.”

McDowell was one of 12 tourists from across the world who were due to tour Afghanistan with one Spanish and two Afghan guides.

Three Spanish tourists and three Afghans were killed in the attack.

“There was a bit of commotion but I thought it might’ve been someone just dropped some firecrackers amongst the crowd.”

“Then slowly a gunman started to emerge shooting into the buildings walking backwards in front of us”, McDowell told The Nightly.

“That’s when I realised once he emerged from behind the car in front of us: ‘Shit. This is a guy with a gun and this is a real situation’.”

McDowell was among a 36-year-old Lithuanian, a 60-year-old Norwegian and an 82-year-old Spaniard all injured in the attack, a list produced by local Taliban authorities and obtained by The Nightly recorded.

4 people including 3 foreign citizens were killed after gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Bamyan. Seven others including 4 foreigners are wounded. Taliban arrested 4 suspects. The nationality of the victims are not announced yet.
The scene of the attack. Credit: Supplied/X

“The Taliban is closely monitoring him. His health is satisfactory”, another Afghan source familiar with the emergency response told The Nightly at the time.

He was taken to Bamyan Provincial Hospital with a gunshot wound to his buttock before being evacuated to an emergency hospital in Kabul.

“When he turned to point his gun at our vehicle, all 5 people in our car dropped below the dashboard line”, McDowell continued.

“I heard two bullets hit the vehicle. One broke the windscreen and the other one hit somewhere else.”

“He’s walking towards the car, shooting towards the car. I’m thinking ‘We’re trapped in this car’. I got out of the car and ran away.”

McDowell recounted the next few seconds of being in the direct line of sight of the attacker.

“I was supposed to run behind our van but I ran too far. There was another sedan behind it and I got about half way down that sedan and that’s when I got hit in the bum.”

“Out of a panic, instead of continuing to run, I dropped and rolled under the sedan. A couple of seconds later he was standing right beside that car. His feet were probably a metre from me”, he said.

Within 10 minutes of the event happening there were gunmen on the rooftop and about 100 Taliban in the streets. We were escorted back to Kabul by about 100 Taliban.

“I thought this would probably be the end. He saw me roll under so I thought he would just bend down and shoot me.”

The injured McDowell spoke with The Nightly from his hospital bed in Kabul, in the European Union embassy, as he waited for a transfer flight in Dubai, and on his return home to Perth.

The Nightly was the first to publish last Saturday that an Australian had reportedly been injured in a shooting in Bamyan.

Islamic State Khorasan Province, an Islamic State affiliate based in Afghanistan and known as ISIS-K, claimed the attack days later.

ISIS-K is the same Taliban rival that claimed the August 2021 Kabul airport suicide bombing that killed 170 Afghans and 13 US military members during evacuations from Afghanistan.

Taliban Ministry of the Interior spokesperson Abdul Mateen Qani said four people had been arrested.

“The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan strongly condemns this accident, expresses its deep feelings to the families of the victims and assures that all criminals will be found and punished, hopefully”, he wrote on X at 3am AEST last Saturday.

“I’m not a Taliban supporter necessarily but I think I’m a big believer in making up your own mind about people. They did everything they could do to help us in what happened”, McDowell said.

“Within 10 minutes of the event happening there were gunmen on the rooftop and about 100 Taliban in the streets. We were escorted back to Kabul by about 100 Taliban.”

“I know they’re not recognised as the government by other countries, but they are the government and they were hit pretty hard by that attack.”

“Their fledgling tourism, trade and industry was hit by that, and they were pretty annoyed I could tell.”

McDowell, a self-described “Perth boy”, was on his second day of a ten-day scheduled tour when the attack happened.

He visited the British Cemetery on his first day, established in the late 19th century amid the Anglo-Afghan Wars.

“Bamyan was the first stop after a day tour in Kabul”, he said.

WA man Joe McDowell survived a deadly shooting in Afghanistan
WA man Joe McDowell is on his way back home. Credit: @AfghanistanSola/X/supplied

“I’d only been in the country for two days, so I didn’t understand it very well yet, didn’t speak the language, didn’t have mobile reception, and didn’t understand the situation. I didn’t know who was responsible or what had happened.”

McDowell evaded the attacker, fleeing from under the sedan to an alleyway.

“Luckily for me, he got distracted by something and started shooting over the top of the sedan and then he just started walking away, so that was my opportunity.”

Once the shooting stopped, he would find his fellow travellers killed.

“I ran back to the van where my friends were to see what their injuries were… There were a couple of my friends that were dead bodies just beside the van.”

Towards the end of The Nightly’s interview with McDowell, he was on a flight back to Perth.

“I’ve travelled to various places around the world. Afghanistan is sort of a new tourist destination, obviously having just come out of war.”

“That’s the sort of place I prefer to go to because it’s a bit raw, it’s not sanitary. It’s the real country”, he said.

“I think if you go to Thailand and go to Koh Samu, it’s all just tourist resorts and that’s not the sort of holiday I want to do. I don’t dislike it, but it’s not what I’m after.

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