The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibilty for the Tuesday killing of Pakistani reporter Mukarram Khan Aatif, who worked for the Voice of America.
Aatif was assassinated in Shabqadar, a small town located in the violence-hit Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, not far from Peshawar.
Witnesses and local police say that Aatif was attending evening prayers when two assailants on a motorbike arrived at the mosque. One of them entered the building, they say, and shot Aatif in the head and chest before escaping the scene.
The slain reporter, in his mid 40s and a native of the Mohman tribal agency bordering Afghanistan, was rushed in critical condition to a hospital, where he later died from his injuries.
Friends and relatives and that death threats from Taliban militants had forced the slain reporter and his family to abandon their hometown and move to Shabqadar.
Aatif, far left, attends a training session in Islamabad, Pakistan, 2010. (VOA Deewa)
Soon after news of his death surfaced, local and international media groups condemned his killing as a act an terrorism. Imtiaz Alam, secretary-general of South Asia Free Media Association, a regional media watchdog, called for a probe.
“The government must investigate and find the culprits and also compensate the family," Alam said. "And I expect more killings in Pakistan, and journalists are now leaving country under threat from all kinds of actors, especially the extremists.”
Pakistani information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government will conduct a “thorough and transparent” investigation into the incident and promised financial assistance to the victim’s family.
“It is really a very sad incident and I condemn it from the core of my heart." Awan said. "I assure his family and all the media that we have to really interrogate and go for a transparent inquiry, and I am sure that we will be able to find some facts related to this incident.”
The minister added that Pakistan’s ongoing war against Taliban-led extremists has exposed the entire society to revenge terrorist attacks.
In addition to filing reports for Deewa Radio, the Voice of America’s Pashto language service, Mukarram Khan Aatif also worked for Dunya TV, a privately-run local television station.
Critics insist that not only militants but Pakistani security agencies are also behind deadly attacks on journalists. The failure of the Pakistani authorities to bring elements involved in such attacks to justice, they say, has emboldened those fearful of increasingly independent media.
According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 10 reporters were killed in Pakistan in 2011, making it the deadliest nation in the world for journalists.