Afghanistan bombing ‘a deliberate attack’ on international journalism

A series of attacks in Afghanistan killed 10 journalists on Monday, in the deadliest day for the country’s media since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Nine journalists were killed in a suicide bombing that appeared to target the media in the capital city of Kabul, while a reporter for the BBC Afghan service was shot and died in the eastern province of Khost. Dozens of civilians were also killed.

According to Reporters Without Borders, an initial blast set off at a street checkpoint near the headquarters of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency killed mostly ordinary civilians. A second suicide bomb was detonated half an hour later, after reporters had arrived on the scene. CNN reports that the suicide bomber was disguised as a TV cameraman. Six other journalists were injured in the explosion.

“These are all Afghan reporters that have been killed, but at least five are working directly for the international media,” the Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Joel Simon tells CJR. “So theses are the reporters who keep the world informed. This is not a local story; it’s not just about local news coverage in Afghanistan. This is a threat not just to the Afghan media, this is a threat to global media.”

Reporters Without Borders lists those killed in Kabul: ToloNews cameraman Yar Mohammad Tokhi, three Radio Azadai (Radio Free Europe) journalists (Ebadollah Hananzi, Sabvon Kakeker and Maharam Darani), two TV1 cameramen (Ghazi Rasoli and Norozali Rajabi, aka Khamoush), AFP photographer Shah Marai Fezi, Mashal TV reporter Salim Talash and Mashal TV cameraman Ali Salimi. The BBC’s Ahmed Shah, 29, was killed yesterday in Khost. BBC World Service Director Jamie Angus said Shah had been “respected and popular,” and called his death “a devastating loss.”

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The attacks also mark the deadliest day for journalists anywhere in the world since the January 2015 shootings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Nearly two decades into the American presence in Afghanistan, the national conversation in the States has largely turned away from the situation on the ground. Simons says that while the Afghan media has tremendous challenges, its press is “one of the most successful institutions to develop in Afghanistan.”

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News of the bombings drew attention to the challenges faced by journalists around the globe while many are looking inward. “We’re so focused on domestic issues—we’re debating endlessly what happened at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—there’s just less space for international news, fewer resources, fewer bureaus,” Simon says. “Our ability to stay informed about global events depends on these networks of local journalists, who work with each other and keep the world informed. This was a deliberate attack on that system.”

Marai published a blog in 2016 detailing his time reporting in Afghanistan after the initial fall of the Taliban in 2001. The poignant final words of that post: “I have never felt life to have so little prospects and I don’t see a way out. It’s a time of anxiety.”

 

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.