UN, US condemn attacks that left 10 Afghan journalists dead
KABUL, Afghanistan — Condemnation poured in from across the world on Tuesday after attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group left 10 Afghan journalists dead in what the United Nations described as the “deliberate targeting” of the media.
A total of 25 people, including Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Shah Marai and eight other journalists, were killed in two suicide bombings in Kabul.
Journalists from Radio Free Europe and from Afghanistan’s Tolo News and 1TV were among those killed.
The BBC confirmed that armed men in eastern Khost province also shot dead its reporter, 29-year-old Ahmad Shah, who had worked for the British broadcaster for more than a year.
In what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said was the most lethal single attack on the media since the fall of the Taliban, a second suicide bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among a group of reporters and photographers who had rushed to the first blast site in Kabul.
Another 49 people were wounded in the Kabul bombings.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “outraged” by the suicide blasts claimed by the IS group.
“The deliberate targeting of journalists in the attack highlights once again the risks media professionals face in carrying out their essential work,” Guterres said.
In a third strike on Monday in Afghanistan, another suicide attacker exploded his car near a Nato convoy in southern Kandahar province. Eleven children were killed and 16 people were wounded, including Romanian and Afghan soldiers.
Undermining electoral process
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the weakened IS militants were targeting journalists in Afghanistan to undermine the electoral process ahead of an expected vote in October.
“This is the normal stuff by people who cannot win at the ballot box, so they turn to bombs,” Mattis said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned the “senseless and barbaric attack.”
“The vibrant media landscape that has developed in Afghanistan will endure, in large part due to those journalists and media professionals who tragically died in today’s attack, but whose courageous and steadfast work helped lay the foundation for Afghanistan’s thriving and resilient independent media,” Mattis said.
The attacks in Kabul, Khost and Kandahar came days after the Taliban began a spring offensive in an apparent rejection of a peace talks overture by the Afghan government.
‘They cannot silence us’
Afghanistan was last year ranked the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists by RSF.
On Monday, RSF urged the international community to guard the media from future attacks.
“It is high time that the UN send a strong signal to the international community and to local protagonists by appointing a special representative for the protection of journalists,” said RSF chief Christophe Deloire.
The media watchdog said that since 2016, it had recorded the killing of 34 journalists in Afghanistan.
In 2016, seven employees of popular TV channel Tolo were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing. In November last year, broadcaster Shamshad TV was stormed by gunmen who killed one person.
After that strike, the defiant station was back on the air within hours, with a newscaster with bandaged hands reporting on the attack as its director vowed: “They cannot silence us.”
AFP’s Marai joined the French news agency as a driver in 1996, the year the Taliban seized power. He soon began taking pictures on the side, covering stories, including the US invasion in 2001.
In 2002, he became a full-time photo stringer, rising through the ranks to become the bureau’s chief photographer.
During his career, Marai was beaten and threatened by the Taliban.
He suffered devastating personal loss in 2014 when his wife and two children were killed along with AFP senior reporter Sardar Ahmad in a Taliban attack.
Marai, 41, left behind six other children, including a newborn daughter.
He was buried near his home village in Shomali Plain, north of Kabul, later Monday in a ceremony attended by heartbroken relatives, friends and colleagues.
“This tragedy reminds us of the danger that our teams continually face on the ground and the essential role journalists play for democracy,” said AFP’s CEO Fabrice Fries.
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