Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered “a full investigation” into the shooting of two Associated Press journalists, the Presidential palace said on Friday.
“President Hamid Karzai was grieved” by the incident in which one AP photographer was shot dead and another reporter was injured by an Afghan policeman in the country’s east, a statement from the palace said.
“Anja Niedringhaus, a German photographer, and Kathy Gannon, a Canadian reporter, working for the AP were shot by a police officer at 11:00 am (0630 GMT) in Tanai district,” said Baryalay Rawan, a police official from the Khost province where the incident happened.
The police officer opened fire while the women were sitting in their car, AP confirmed, adding that Gannon — who was shot twice — was in stable condition at a nearby hospital. The news organization confirmed Niedringhaus was killed.
Police said their driver was unhurt.
The Taliban, who have vowed to disrupt the upcoming Presidential elections by targeting candidates and polling centres, said they had no hand in the attack.
“The freedom fighters were not involved in this attack,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents. “It could be a personal issue.”
The German Foreign Ministry said that the country’s embassy in Kabul was “persistently trying to find clarification” about the killing of Niedringhaus.
The UN and NATO condemned the “tragic and abhorrent attack.”
“I am outraged by this terror attack on civilians,” said Jan Kubis, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
“The journalists were informing the world how Afghan citizens are exercising their right to shape a better future for themselves, their children and their country,” Kubis was quoted as saying.
“I strongly condemn this tragic attack,” said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu, adding that the journalists were in Afghanistan to cover a “watershed moment in the country’s history.” “I express my condolences to the family of the deceased and wish a prompt recovery to the one who has been wounded,” Lungescu added.
The attack took place on the eve of the Presidential election. The journalists had gone to Khost city, the capital of the province of the same name, along with a convoy delivering election ballots.
They then went on to nearby Tanai district, on the border with Pakistan, where Taliban are thought to be based, Rawan said.
“They went to Tanai only with their Afghan driver to cover the elections tomorrow,” he said, adding that the incident took place in front of the district governor’s office.
AP contradicted the police statement, saying that the duo was with the election convoy for the entire journey from the centre of Khost city to the outskirts in Tanai district.
“The convoy was protected by the Afghan National Army and Afghan police. They were in their own car with a freelancer and a driver,” the press agency’s report said. “According to the freelancer, they had arrived in the heavily guarded district compound shortly before the incident.” “As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK—47. He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested.” “Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss,” AP quoted their Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll as saying in New York.
Gannon is based in Islamabad, and has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan since 1986, with a focus on Taliban and other militants.
Niedringhaus, 48, was a Pulitzer—winning photojournalist, who had been working in Afghanistan and the surrounding region since 2001.
Gary Pruitt, the CEO of AP, announced the death of Niedringhaus, in an email saying the two “it appears, were targeted and attacked.” “Those of you who worked with Anja know what a life force she was: spirited, intrepid and fearless, with a raucous laugh that we will always remember,” Pruitt said in a statement to AP staff.
“Where once reporters and photographers were seen as the impartial eyes and ears of crucial information, today they are often targets.” Paris—based Reporters without Borders asked the authorities “to do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists, whose role is crucial at the height of the electoral process.” “The shooting has highlighted the permanent and ubiquitous danger for reporters in some regions of Afghanistan,” said Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Reporters without Borders Asia—Pacific desk.
“It is all the more shocking for apparently being the work of a policeman who should have been protecting Afghan and foreign journalists.” Friday’s was the latest in a series of attacks on journalists in the country.
Last month, Sardar Ahmad, an Afghan journalist for the French newswire AFP, was killed with his wife and two children in a Kabul hotel attack by four Taliban assailants.
Also in March, Swedish journalist Nils Horner was gunned down in his car in Kabul.