Tuesday 6 December 2016

Taliban suicide bomber targeted Afghan TV employees

Published 22/01/2016 | 03:56

Relatives and friends of a suicide attack victim pray during her burial ceremony in Kabul (AP)
Relatives and friends of a suicide attack victim pray during her burial ceremony in Kabul (AP)

A deadly Taliban attack on a bus carrying employees of Afghanistan's biggest TV station drew widespread condemnation, with activists denouncing it as an assault ttack on freedom of speech.

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A suicide bomber struck the minibus with workers from Tolo TV, owned by the private Moby Group, the country's biggest media organisation.

At least seven people were killed and 25 were wounded in the explosion in Kabul late on Wednesday.

The bus was hit as it was passing the Russian Embassy, which triggered initial speculation that the mission was the target.

But the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility and said they had specifically targeted Tolo TV, calling it a "spy agency" and that they had made good on earlier threats to attack the station.

The Taliban said the station's vehicles had been under surveillance for some time.

The UN Security Council condemned the attack "in the strongest terms," calling it a "heinous crime" that not only targeted civilians but "aims at the right of all Afghans to freedom of expression".

It called for those responsible for the "terrorist attack" to be brought to justice.

The council expressed serious concern at the threats posed by the Taliban, al-Qaida and affiliates of the Islamic State extremist group to local people, defence and security forces and the "international presence" in Afghanistan.

Tolo is the most popular TV station in Afghanistan, providing viewers with a mixture of news, current affairs and talk shows, as well as soap operas and other entertainment.

It has its headquarters in Dubai, and in 2012 Rupert Murdoch's News Corp took a minority stake in the company.

Along with another popular privately owned station, 1 TV, Tolo was threatened by the Taliban in October following the broadcast of reports on the insurgents' activities in Kunduz, which they held for three days from late September.

The Taliban said the reporting was inaccurate, designated the two stations "military objectives," and threatened unspecified consequences, referring to a report on allegations that the group's gunmen had stormed a women's hostel in Kunduz and raped the residents.

The emergence of a free and vibrant media is seen as a major achievement of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

A 2014 study by Altai Consulting found that 175 radio and 75 television stations had been set up since the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, who ran the country from 1996-2001.

The Taliban regime had one radio station, Sharia Radio, and banned television.

The Afghan Journalists' Federation called on the government to investigate the level of security provided for personnel at the threatened television stations, and on the owners to provide greater protection for the staff.

The attack was condemned by acting defence minister Masoom Stanekzai, who described it as "heartbreaking".

The EU's mission in Afghanistan, a strong advocate of media freedom in Afghanistan, called it a "horrific crime and an indefensible attack on a civilian target and a clear violation of international law".

Press Association

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