ISLAMABAD — A journalist of Swedish and British nationality was gunned down in broad daylight on the streets of Kabul Tuesday, underscoring increasing violence in the Afghan capital in the approach to presidential elections in April.
Nils Horner had been in Kabul only a few days when he was shot in the head and killed Tuesday. An experienced radio reporter, he was walking with his interpreter down a heavily guarded street when two men came up to him. One drew a gun and shot Horner in the head.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the daylight killing, underlining growing insecurity in the capital and the multiple threats that exist in the country beyond that hardline militant group.
Mujeeb Khalwatgar, head of an organization that supports independent media in Afghanistan, says he expects more attacks against journalists as the April 5 presidential elections get closer.
“We will be witnessing more threats and incidents against journalists," he said. "This was because the government of Afghanistan wants to put more pressure on media, and also the insecurity increasing is something that says for us that the threats and violences against journalists raise day by day.”
The Taliban have said they will kill anyone who takes part in the April 5 ballot.
Khalwatgar said three journalists have been killed since the start of the year, and more than 10 others have been physically or verbally harassed.
The Swedish embassy confirmed Horner's death. The killing took place not far from a Lebanese restaurant bombed by the Taliban in January, killing 21 people. Thirteen were foreigners.
Jan Kubis, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, swiftly condemned the killing of a media worker, adding his deep concern for all civilians targeted by violence. In a statement, Kubis called on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Horner was in the heavily guarded Akbar Khan diplomatic area of Kabul when he was shot. His organization said he was an experienced journalist who worked in Iraq and Egypt as well as Afghanistan.
Witnesses said the gunman shot Horner in the back of the head. The reporter collapsed in a pool of blood. He was taken to a hospital but was dead on arrival. Swedish Radio said it was one of the worst days in the organization’s history.
Despite heavy security around the capital, including high blast walls, rolls of barbed wire and armed guards, bomb and gun attacks on hotels, guest houses and embassies have killed foreigners and locals before. But it is rare for a single foreigner to be openly gunned down on the street.
Khalwatgar said he expected more such attacks as international combat forces complete their withdrawal from the country at the end of the year.
“International withdrawal from Afghanistan is something we think, as we [approach] the end of this withdrawal, we are perceiving more threats and pressure," he said.
He said there already was a pattern of increased violence in the areas where Afghan troops have taken the place of international forces that have departed.
Kabul has a considerable community of foreigners working for a wide variety of embassies, news organizations, international aid groups and non-governmental organizations.