Friday 31 October 2014

Afghan policeman kills prize-winning journalist

Rob Crilly and Zubair Babakarkhail, Kabul

Published 05/04/2014 | 00:05

Bullet holes are seen in the car in which Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus (inset) and AP reporter Kathy Gannon were traveling when they were shot by an Afghan policeman. AP / Reuters
Bullet holes are seen in the car in which Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus (inset) and AP reporter Kathy Gannon were traveling when they were shot by an Afghan policeman. AP / Reuters
Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and an AP reporter was wounded when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan
Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and an AP reporter was wounded when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan
Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, right, and AP journalist  Kathy Gannon
Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, right, and AP journalist Kathy Gannon

An Afghan policeman opened fire on two female journalists, killing a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and wounding a reporter as they covered final preparations for presidential elections.

Anja Niedringhaus (48), from Germany, died instantly after being shot in the head. Her colleague, Kathy Gannon (60), had emergency surgery for two gunshot wounds before being flown to the US military hospital at Bagram airbase near Kabul.

Both worked for the Associated Press agency. Kathleen Carroll, the agency's executive editor, said: “Anja and Kathy have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss.”

Stronghold

She was the third journalist to be murdered in the past month – part of a deadly wave of violence in the build-up to landmark elections, when voters will choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has governed since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Militants have stepped up their campaign of violence to undermine the election in the year that NATO-led combat troops leave.

The journalists were in Khost, an eastern province that borders Pakistan's lawless North Waziristan tribal area. It is known as a stronghold of the Haqqani network, blamed for numerous high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, many targeting foreigners.

According to an account given by an AP colleague, they were travelling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots to the outskirts of Khost city yesterday. The vehicles were under the protection of Afghan security forces.

They were in their own car with a translator, waiting for a motorcade to move on from a heavily guarded police base. A lieutenant named Naqibullah walked up to the car, shouted “Allahu akbar” – God is Greatest – and shot them with his AK-47 as they sat in the back seat.

The attacker surrendered peacefully. A local police source said officers believed the attack was in revenge for a US airstrike in January in Parwan province. Other officers said the motive was unclear. The Taliban immediately distanced itself from the attack. A statement from Mr Karzai's office said he was “saddened” and had ordered a full investigation.

James Cunningham, the American ambassador to Kabul, said the attack was “senseless”, adding: “They were committed to documenting Afghanistan on the verge of a historic political transition.”

Both journalists were known as warzone veterans. Ms Niedringhaus covered conflicts in the Balkans, Iraq, Libya, Gaza and the West Bank over the course of 20 years. She had reported from Afghanistan numerous times since the 2001 US-led invasion. In 2005 she was part of an AP team that won the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the war in Iraq.

Stable

Ms Gannon, who is Canadian, was said to be in a stable condition last night and was talking to doctors.

The shooting followed the murders last month of Nils Horner, a Swedish radio reporter, and French journalist Sardar Ahmad.

The latest attack could not come at a worse time for the Afghan government, as officials and ministers had been at pains to reassure the world that sufficient security measures are in place to protect voters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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