Zeenab Kassam's death in Afghanistan 'not in vain,' says brother

The brother of Zeenab Kassam, who was killed while volunteering in Afghanistan, says he hopes her death will not prevent more aid workers from travelling to the war-torn country.

Karim-Aly Kassam speaks for the 1st time about his sister who was killed in Kabul hotel attack

The brother of a Calgarian killed in Afghanistan speaks out on his sister's death for the first time. 5:40

The brother of Zeenab Kassam, who was killed while volunteering in Afghanistan, says he hopes her death will not prevent more aid workers from travelling to the war-torn country.

Zeenab Kassam has 'galvanized young Canadians to emulate her,' says her brother Karim-Aly Kassam. (Submitted by Kassam family)

The 57-year-old was among nine people killed by Taliban gunmen at the Serena Hotel in Kabul last week. Another Canadian aid worker, Roshan Thomas, was also gunned down by four young men who stormed the luxury hotel with pistols stuffed in their socks.

All four gunmen were killed by authorities in Afghanistan.

"We hold no malice towards the people of Afghanistan," said Karim-Aly Kassam.

"Instead, we stand with you in solidarity. We even grieve with the families of the boys who brutally murdered nine innocent and unarmed people, which included children as well as my sister. We grieve with these families ... because we know what it is like to lose a family member." 

He said the death of his sister last week has been very difficult for his family.

"One of the persons who was first on the scene assured me that the wound was so grave that he did not believe that she suffered," said Karim-Aly.

Making a difference

Zeenab Kassam had spent the last year and a half volunteering as an English teacher at a school funded by the Aga Khan Foundation. 

"My sister's life and death was in the cause of service in an effort to bring about mutual understanding through communication," said her brother.

He said his sister would have not continued to work in Afghanistan if she did not believe that Canadians and other volunteers were making a difference.

"Zeenab's life was not in vain," he said. "She has galvanized young Canadians to emulate her."

Her body is expected to arrive in Calgary tomorrow.

This is the first time Karim-Aly Kassam has spoken publicly about what happened to his sister.

He said she was having supper with Thomas, her fellow aid worker, to celebrate the eve of Nowruz, or Persian New Year, when the attack happened.

The Serena Hotel had long been considered one of the safest accommodations in the country.

'You have not intimidated us'

Kassam also had a message for the "men who hide in shadows who compel young men to choose violence."

"You have wounded us, but you have not intimidated us," he said.

Zeenab Kassam's brother said she had a passion for life, including ballroom dancing and travelling to diverse lands. (Submitted by Kassam family)

Kassam said his sister chose empathy, knowledge and hope to secure life, not hate and brute force to bring death. He said that's the reason education is so important in the country. 

He shared a story about one of his sister's English students, who asked her if she was worried she would be killed or kidnapped. He said she replied by saying she didn't know, but did not want to live in fear.

Zeenab always lived her life with the goal of helping people, said her brother. She was born in Zanzibar in 1957, but her family moved to Calgary when she was a teenager "due to growing intolerances" in that part of the world.

Zeenab​ graduated from high school in Calgary, where she pursued a passion for art, choir and sports. She was fluent in several languages and cheered for her favourite hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens.

"That was before we had the Calgary Flames," he said. "In other words, she was a normal Canadian kid who was an avid fan of ice hockey."

Zeenab trained as a nurse in Edmonton and lived in Alberta for 45 years.

"She wanted to provide relief for the sick," said Karim-Aly, adding she was always first on the scene to help.

Her brother said she played an important role in raising his children. She also had a passion for ballroom dancing and travelling to diverse lands.