KABUL: Ten journalists and 27 others were killed in attacks across Afghanistan on Monday, the deadliest day for the country’s media since 2001.
A double suicide blast in Kabul killed 25 people, including nine journalists, in what Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said was the most lethal single attack on the media since the fall of the Taliban.
Editorial: Kabul bombing
The attack, claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group, was condemned by Pakistan, the United Nations and the European Union, and spurred an outpouring of grief among Afghan journalists, many of whom took to Twitter to post tributes to colleagues and friends.
Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said the second explosion came minutes after the first and targeted reporters at the scene.
“The bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among the crowd,” he said.
The interior ministry confirmed the number of deaths and said 49 people had been wounded amid fears the toll could rise.
AFP’s (Agence France-Presse) chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, was among the journalists killed.
Pakistan expresses grief over loss of lives, condemns violence
BBC confirmed that one of its reporters, 29-year-old Ahmad Shah, was shot dead in a separate attack in eastern Khost province, near the border with Pakistan. The broadcaster did not immediately give further details.
Pakistan strongly condemned the twin suicide attacks in Kabul.
“We are distressed and grieved at the loss of precious lives in this dreadful terrorist attacks,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
“We express our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their loved ones,” it added.
The government and people of Pakistan expressed their support and solidarity with their Afghan brethren in this hour of grief, it said.
Pakistan reiterates its condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and resolved to fight this menace till its elimination, the statement said.
“We are confident that the resolve of brave Afghan people to defeat terrorism cannot be weakened by such cowardly attacks,” it added.
In an attack in the southern province of Kandahar 11 children were killed and 16 people wounded, including foreign and Afghan security force members, when a suicide attacker exploded his car near a convoy, officials said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for that attack, which brought the total number of people killed across the country to 37.
The attacks highlight the dangers journalists face in the war-torn country, where violence is increasing as the resurgent Taliban step up their campaign while the IS makes inroads.
Journalists from Radio Free Europe and Afghan broadcasters ToloNews and 1TV, as well as others, were among those killed in Kabul, the RWB said.
“This tragedy reminds us of the danger that our teams continually face on the ground and the essential role journalists play for democracy,” said Fabrice Fries, CEO of AFP.
The IS, which has dramatically stepped up its attacks in Kabul in recent months, claimed responsibility via its propaganda agency Amaq.
The attacks come days after the Taliban began their spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s offer of peace talks.
Reporters Without Borders said that since 2016 it has recorded the killings of 34 journalists in Afghanistan, which it ranks at 118 out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index.
Prior to Monday’s blasts, the deadliest attack on the media in recent years was in 2016, when 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. The defiant station was back on the air within hours, a newscaster with bandaged hands reporting on the attack as its director vowed: “They cannot silence us”.
“I’ve seen them work and trust me, the colleagues of the dead will be back to cover the next horrendous attack #pressfreedom”, tweeted journalist Sune Engel Rasmussen on Monday, who formerly reported for the Guardian newspaper in Kabul, in response to Monday’s blasts.
President Ashraf Ghani’s government is under pressure on multiple fronts this year as it prepares to hold long-delayed legislative elections in October.
Some Western and Afghan officials expect 2018 to be a particularly bloody year, with the Taliban and other militant groups controlling or contesting large swathes of the country.
A bombing that targeted a voter registration centre in Kabul killed 60 people last week.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2018