May 20, 2024

The father of a Marine killed during the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan interrupted President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Speech on Thursday night, crying out “Abbey Gate! Abbey Gate!” — the name of the airport gate where his son was killed by a suicide bomber.

Steve Nikoui, the father of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, was arrested by Capitol Police for the outburst, which also included yelling “Marines” while Biden spoke of violent crime in the U.S. Lance Cpl. Nikoui was one of 13 service members and at least 170 Afghans killed in the bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26, 2021.

“Last night at approximately 10:15 p.m., a man disrupted the State of the Union Address by yelling. Our officers warned him to stop and, when he did not, the man was removed from the House Galleries and was arrested,” U.S. Capitol Police told Military.com in an email.

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Nikoui was charged with crowding, obstructing, or incommoding, “a routine charge on Capitol Hill,” Capitol Police said. “People who illegally demonstrate/disrupt Congress typically are released after they pay a $50 fine, so the misdemeanor charge is resolved without going to court.”

In addition to losing Kareem, Nikoui’s other son took his own life in 2022 at a park near Lance Cpl. Nikoui’s grave just weeks before the first anniversary of his death.

Nikoui could not be reached for comment. He attended the address as a guest of Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., who told Military.com in an email he believed the charge levied against Nikoui for the outburst was disgraceful.

“Mr. Nikoui lost his son due to Joe Biden’s incompetence, and lost another son to grief over his brother being killed,” Mast told Military.com. “This man and his family have given America more than I could personally bear, and to attack him with a ‘BS’ charge of ‘demonstrating’ is a disgrace.”

Nikoui and his wife, Shana Chappell, have been vocal critics of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal. “The BYEDONE administration is why I have two dead sons!” Chappell wrote in an Instagram post in December. “Time is not healing so I’m taking it one day at a time! That’s all I can do.”

Last year, service members and veterans who had been deployed for the withdrawal testified in front of Congress about their experiences as the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan.

Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a Marine sniper who lost an arm and a leg in the blast, said troops’ warnings about the suspected bomber had been ignored in the moments leading up to the blast.

“Plain and simple, we were ignored,” Vargas-Andrews said about his and others’ efforts to get approval to shoot the person they suspected to be the suicide bomber. “My body was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast. My abdomen had been ripped open. Every inch of my exposed body except for my face took ball bearings and shrapnel.”

The Biden administration has largely cast the evacuation as a success, pointing to the 120,000 people, including 76,000 Afghans, who were airlifted out.

But tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. military and so are eligible to immigrate to the U.S. were left behind in the hasty withdrawal, while the Aug. 26 suicide bombing remains one of the single deadliest days for U.S. forces of the entire war.

— Rachel Nostrant is a Marine Corps veteran and freelance journalist, with work published in Reuters, New York Magazine, Military Times and more.

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