KABUL - An Afghan policeman shot two foreign, female journalists in eastern Afghanistan Friday, on the eve of historic presidential elections in Afghanistan. Attacks against local and international media trying to cover Saturday’s vote increase.
The policeman opened fire on the two prize-winning international journalists as they covered the election process in the eastern province of Khost. Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed, and Kathy Gannon, an award winning reporter for Associated Press, was wounded.
Later the same day, in the same district, a bomb went off in a mosque that was to act as a polling station for Saturday's vote. Officials say two people were killed and four wounded in the blast.
The Taliban has repeatedly threatened anyone seen as participating in the April 5 presidential and provincial council elections, and the militants have carried out a series of lethal bomb and gun attacks against reporters, election officials, police and government in the past three weeks.
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said the officer responsible for the mid-morning shooting of the journalists had been arrested and was being questioned.
Provincial officials said Gannon was being treated for her wounds in a local hospital and was no longer in critical condition.
A spokesman for the provincial governor told VOA the two reporters were inside a district police compound when they were attacked. The two had been traveling in a convoy of Afghan election workers near Khost city, close to the militant strongholds of Pakistan’s North Waziristan.
Both journalists were experienced reporters. Niedringhaus, a German photographer, who joined AP in 2002, won a Pulitzer in 2005 for her coverage of the Iraq war. Gannon, from Canada, has lived in Pakistan for years, and won a Courage in Journalism Award in 2002.
Mobarez Mohammad Zadran, spokesman for the provincial governor, described the scene.
He said that, today, Friday, around 10:45am, inside the Tanni district police headquarters, one of the district police officers, officer Naqibullah, fired an AK-47 at two foreign AP journalists, instantly killing a German journalist. Another female journalist from Canada was seriously wounded.”
Zadran said the wounded journalist, Gannon, was taken to Khost hospital in serious condition.
Zadran said although in the beginning there were fears that Gannon would not survive, the doctors' work was successful and her condition was improving. He said she was now out of danger.
President Hamid Karzai in a statement released Friday said he was saddened by the attack, and sent his condolences to the families. Karzai said he has ordered the Interior Ministry and the provincial governor to use all their resources to help and evacuate Gannon.
Khost governor Abdul Jabar Naimi has ordered an investigation into the incident to determine why the officer opened fire on the journalists. According to police officials, the shooter was not from Khost, but had been working in the district for a year.
Speaking in New York, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said both reporters had worked together for years covering the conflict in Afghanistan. According to an AP report, Carroll said the company was “heartbroken” at the loss of Niedringhaus.
The United Nations, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists all condemned the attack and expressed their condolences.
Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said the shooting highlights the "permanent and ubiquitous danger" for reporters in some regions of Afghanistan and called on authorities "to do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists, whose role is crucial at the height of the electoral process."
Friday’s killing was the third attack against journalists. On March 11, British-Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner was shot dead at point-blank range on the streets of Kabul. Nine days later, gunmen shot and killed Afghan reporter for Agence France Presse (AFP) Sardar Ahmad, his wife and two of his three young children as they were having dinner in Kabul's heavily protected Serena Hotel.
Afghans said they hoped this election, the first democratic transfer of power from one leader to another, would fortify the country’s political institutions. To ensure that, they said they would head to the polls Saturday despite the threats of violence.
Fawzul, a young man standing with his friends next to a market stall in Kabul, was one of them.
“I hope this election will bring changes, like paving the way for young generation to be educated, and to bring changes about economics, and well governing, and eliminating security threats,” he said.
Some 300,000 security personnel, including army, police and air support, have spread out across the country to protect roughly 6,500 polling stations.
Afghan media, as well as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, condemned Friday's attack on Niedringhaus and Gannon.