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Ten journalists, including AFP photographer and BBC reporter, killed in Afghanistan attacks

A double suicide blast in Kabul killed 25 people early this morning.

Image: Massoud Hossaini

Updated at 9.30pm

TEN JOURNALISTS, INCLUDING AFP’s chief photographer in Kabul and a BBC reporter in Khost, are among dozens killed in attacks across Afghanistan today, the deadliest day for the country’s media since 2001.

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 Islamic State (IS) group makes inroads.

A double suicide blast in Kabul killed 25 people, including AFP’s Shah Marai along with at least eight other journalists, in what Reporters Without Borders said was the most lethal single attack on the media since the fall of the Taliban.

The attack, claimed by IS, was condemned by 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.

BBC journalist

This afternoon, the BBC confirmed that one of its reporters, 29-year-old Ahmad Shah, was killed in a separate attack in eastern Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.

In a statement, BBC World Service Director Jamie Angus said Shah was a “respected and popular” journalist.

This is a devastating loss and I send my sincere condolences to Ahmad Shah’s friends and family and the whole BBC News Afghan team.

One American soldier was also killed and another wounded during a combat operation in eastern Afghanistan, US Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement.

“Several Afghan security force members were killed or wounded” in the operation, it added.

In a further attack, 11 children were killed and 16 people wounded, including Romanian and Afghan security force members, when a suicide attacker exploded his car near a NATO convoy in the southern province of Kandahar, officials said.

The children killed were six to 11 years old, the United Nations children’s agency Unicef said in a statement condemning the attack “in the strongest possible terms”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for that attack, which brought the total number of people killed across the country to at least 38.

Journalists from Radio Free Europe and Afghan broadcasters Tolo News and 1TV, as well as others, were among those killed in Kabul, Reporters Without Borders 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.

Bloody summer

IS, which has dramatically stepped up its attacks in Kabul in recent months, claimed responsibility via its propaganda agency Amaq.

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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 today’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”, journalist Sune Engel Rasmussen, who formerly reported for the Guardian newspaper in Kabul, tweeted in response to today’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.

© AFP 2018

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