Journalists targeted in Kabul bombings, 29 killed

World
By Reuters
Shah Marai's career with AFP began in 1996, the year the Taliban took over Afghanistan

KABUL - Twin blasts in the Afghan capital Kabul killed at least 29 people on Monday, including eight journalists who had arrived to report on the first explosion and who were apparently targeted by a suicide bomber, officials said.

Several hours later, a suicide bomber in a vehicle attacked foreign military forces in the southern province of Kandahar, killing 11 children studying in a nearby religious school, police said.

The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AFJSC) said eight journalists were killed in Kabul, the worst toll for media workers in a single attack in the country.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the two blasts in the capital, which senior Kabul police official Hashmat Stanakzai said killed 25 people with 49 seriously wounded.

The attacks came a week after 60 people were killed as they waited at a voter registration center in the west of Kabul, underlining insecurity in the capital despite repeated official pledges to tighten defenses.

The journalists, including a female correspondent, all Afghan nationals, were killed in the second blast in Kabul as they waited by a security cordon, several hundred meters away from the site of the first one. 

The second blast came about half an hour after the first.

Seven of the journalists were from Afghan outlets: two reporters from the Mashal TV, a cameraman and a reporter working for 1TV, two reporters from Radio Azadi and one from Tolo News, the AFJSC said.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse said its chief photographer in Afghanistan, Shah Maria, was killed.

At least five journalists were among the wounded. A Reuters photographer was slightly hurt by shrapnel. 

In the southern city of Kandahar, where NATO-led forces operate out a big air base, 11 children were killed and 16 wounded when a suicide bomber drove his explosive-laden van into a foreign-force convoy, police said.

The 11 children who were killed were studying in a nearby madrassa, or religious school, said Matiullah Zhman, a spokesman for Kandahar police.

No militant group claimed responsibility for the Kandahar blast. A spokesman for Afghanistan’s U.S.-led NATO force said it was checking the report.

PRETENDED TO BE A REPORTER’

In Kabul, Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said the suicide bomber who attacked journalists, appeared to have posed as a media worker and blew himself up where reporters and rescue workers had gathered.

“We know that a suicide bomber pretended to be a reporter. He showed his press card and stood among journalists before blowing himself up,” Danish told Reuters.

Afghanistan was already considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with at least 20 killed last year. Last week, unidentified gunmen shot a journalist in the southern city of Kandahar.

However, Monday’s attack was the most serious one on the media since 2016, when seven workers for Tolo News were killed in an attack claimed by the Taliban.

The reporters had arrived to cover an initial blast in the Shashdarak area close to buildings of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence service.

They were waiting near the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing when the second explosion went off just as people were entering the government office.

Hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in a series of high-profile attacks in Kabul since the beginning of the year, despite President Ashraf Ghani’s offer in February for peace talks “without preconditions”.

Taliban militants, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law to Afghanistan, announced their usual spring offensive last week and there has been heavy fighting in several areas of the country since.

Islamic State first appeared in Afghanistan three years ago. Its fighters have been active in the north of the country but their main stronghold is in an area of the eastern province of Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan.

Journalists killed in the explosion are as follows:

1.    Mahram Durani – Azadi Radio
2.    Ebadullah Hananzai – Azadi Radio
3.    Yar Mohammad Tokhi – TOLOnews Cameraman
4.    Ghazi Rasooli – 1TV Journalist
5.    Nowroz Ali Rajabi– 1TV Cameraman
6.    Shah Marai – AFP Photographer
7.    Saleem Talash – Mashal TV
8.    Ali Saleemi – Mashal TV
9.    Sabawoon Kakar – Azadi Radio

TOLOnews contributed to this report.