Ten journalists have died in in a coordinated double suicide bombing in Kabul and a shooting in the eastern Khost province, on the deadliest day for media workers in the country since the fall of the Taliban.
Nine journalists died in the Afghan capital when they gathered at the scene of the first of two blasts. Ahmad Shah, a BBC reporter, was shot dead in a separate incident in Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.
In Kabul, a suicide attacker riding a motorbike blew himself up in the Shash Darak neighbourhood, near the headquarters and the US embassy, at about 8am on Monday. A second bomber, holding a camera and posing as a journalist, struck 20 minutes later, killing rescue workers and journalists, including an Agence France-Presse photographer, who had rushed to the scene. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Kabul attacks, which left at least 25 people dead and 45 injured in total.
Hours later, a suicide bomber targeting a Nato convoy in southern Kandahar province killed 11 children at a religious school located near where the explosion occurred. At least 16 people, including five Romanian soldiers, nine civilians and two police officers, were also wounded.
AFP paid tribute to its chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, who was among those killed in the capital. “This is a devastating blow, for the brave staff of our close-knit Kabul bureau and the entire agency,” AFP’s global news director, Michèle Léridon, said. “We can only honour the strength, courage, and generosity of a photographer who covered often traumatic, horrific events with sensitivity and consummate professionalism.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said three of its journalists were also killed. They were named as Abadullah Hananzai, Maharram Durrani and Sabawoon Kakar, a photojournalist and camera operator, who was wounded at the scene but died in hospital. A camera operator from the local network Tolo TV was also killed.
“This terrorist attack is a war crime and an organised attack on the Afghan media,” read a statement by the Afghanistan Federation of Journalists, demanding an investigation by the UN. “The attack in the heart of Kabul and in the Green Zone indicates a serious lack of security by the government.”
Saifulrahman Ayar, a journalist who was at the scene, told the Guardian the second attacker was disguised as a journalist and held a camera. “I was near the blast site when the office called me and [asked me] to cover the incident. It was minutes after the first explosion, I was metres away when the second explosion occurred among the journalists,” he said.
“The second attacker was acting like a journalist and had a camera. I am injured in my leg, I was confused, then I saw that I’m in hospital. I told them to let me go because I want to cover the attack on my colleagues.”
Elyas Mousavi, a journalist, was crossing the checkpoint to report on the attack when the second attacker blew himself up. “After the second explosion no one could go near the site, because they were afraid of another explosion. And then ambulances arrived. I saw also some security personal dead,” he said.
Shahhussain Murtazawi, spokesperson for the Afghan presidency, condemned the twin attacks, saying that “the criminal terrorists once again hit Kabul and Nangarhar and committed crimes against humanity, during which a number of civilians have been martyred and injured”.
The US embassy in Kabul also condemned the double suicide bombing. “Where media are in danger, all other human rights are under greater threat,” it said.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said Monday was the deadliest for journalists in the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. At least 34 journalists and media workers have been killed by Isis or the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2016, according to RSF.
A string of deadly large-scale bombings and assaults have struck the capital and other Afghan cities this year. Isis claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on its Amaq propaganda news agency.
The Afghan affiliate of the Isis militant group calls itself Khorasan Province, an archaic name for a central Asian region that includes modern-day Afghanistan. It posted an urgent statement on an Isis-affiliate website saying two of its martyrdom seekers carried out the double bombing targeting the headquarters of the “renegade” Afghan intelligence services in Kabul.
Security officials have warned of the risk of increased attacks in the run-up to parliamentary elections planned for October. The attacks underscore the struggles Afghan security forces have faced to rein in the militant groups since the US and Nato concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.
Like the more well-established Taliban, the Isis affiliate is committed to overthrowing the US-backed government and imposing a harsh form of Islamic rule. But while the Taliban mainly target government officials and security forces, the Isis affiliate tends to favour large-scale attacks on civilians from Afghanistan’s Shia Hazara minority, who it views as apostates.
Last week, an Isis suicide bomber , killing 60 people and wounding at least 130. There were 22 women and eight children among the fatalities.
In March, an Isis suicide bomber targeted a Shia shrine in Kabul where people had gathered to celebrate the Persian new year. That attack killed 31 and wounded 65.