Officials in Afghanistan said Tuesday gunmen killed three women employees of a local television channel in separate attacks in eastern Nangarhar province.
Witnesses and police said the victims were on their way home from work when assailants targeted them in different parts of Jalalabad, capital of the Afghan province, and managed to flee.
The slain women were associated with private Enikass TV, which operates in the city. The station called it a “sad day” and noted that it has “been targeted many times but this is the second time we lost our dear colleagues.”
One of the women was pulled out of the vehicle she was traveling in before being fatally shot, said Zalmay Latifi, the head of the media outlet.
Provincial governor Ziaulhaq Amarkhil told reporters an elderly passerby woman was also wounded.
The Islamic State terror group’s regional affiliate, known as IS Khorasan Province, claimed responsibility for murdering the young media workers. It described the victims as “journalists working for one of the media stations loyal to the apostate Afghan government,”according to SITE Intelligence group, which provided alerts and translations of jihadis threats and communications. A spokesman for the Taliban insurgency denied it had any hand in the killings.
Nangarhar police chief Juma Gul Hemat said an armed suspect was taken into the custody and an investigation was underway.
The United States condemned the killings, calling on the Afghan government to defend press freedom and protect journalists by conducting “open and transparent” investigations into these “vicious murders” to end impunity.
The U.S. embassy wrote on Twitter these attacks are meant to intimidate and intended to make reporters cower. The U.S. embassy said “the culprits hope to stifle freedom of speech in a nation where the media has flourished during the past 20 years. This cannot be tolerated.”
Tuesday’s attack is the latest in an ongoing wave of targeted killings of high-profile figures in Afghanistan, including journalists, civil society activities, religious scholars, judges and government officials.
The violence has forced many into hiding while some have fled the country. Kabul, the Afghan capital, has experienced most of the attacks.
The Afghan government and U.S. officials have blamed the Taliban for being behind the violence, charges the insurgents consistently have rejected.
The latest attack comes as America’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, returned to Kabul this week in a bid to move a troubled Afghan peace process forward.
Khalilzad has been reportedly tasked by President Joe Biden to renegotiate a February 2020 deal with the Taliban that requires the remaining 2,500 American soldiers withdraw from the country by May 1.
The agreement was sealed by Donald Trump’s administration in his bid to end what he would often dub as American’s “endless war.”
The accord opened peace negotiations between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government in September, though the process has made little headway and has not helped reduce violence in Afghanistan.
The bloodshed prompted Biden soon after taking office in January to review the deal to examine whether the Taliban have held up their end of the commitments. The insurgents have cautioned against dumping the troop withdrawal deadline, saying it would escalate Afghan hostilities.