Afghan suicide bombers kill nine journalists in Kabul blasts

Afghan suicide bombers kill nine journalists in Kabul blasts

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At least 25 people were killed, including Agence France-Presse chief photographer for Afghanistan Shah Marai and eight other journalists, when two suicide blasts ripped through Kabul on Monday.

The attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group, are the deadliest to have targeted the media in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, according to Reporters Without Borders.

They spurred an outpouring of grief among journalists, many of whom took to Twitter to post tributes to colleagues and friends.

Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said the second explosion came minutes after the first, and targeted reporters at the scene.

“The bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among the crowd,” he said.

The interior ministry confirmed the death toll and said 49 people had been wounded. There were fears the death toll could rise.

In a separate attack 11 children were killed and 16 people wounded, including foreign and Afghan security force members, when a suicide attacker exploded his bomb-laden car near a convoy in the southern province of Kandahar, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for that attack.

In a statement Reporters Without Borders said nine journalists were killed in Kabul — Marai, along with colleagues from Radio Free Europe and Afghan broadcasters Tolo News and 1TV, among others.

Marai joined AFP as a driver in 1996, the year the Taliban seized power, and began taking pictures on the side, covering stories including the US invasion in 2001.

In 2002 he became a full-time photo stringer, rising through the ranks to become chief photographer in the bureau. “I taught myself photography, so I am always looking to improve,” he said in a company profile in 2015. “Now my photos appear around the world.

“My best memories are when I beat the competition by getting the best photographs of the president or someone else, or from the scene of a bomb attack. I like to be first.”

He leaves behind six children, including a newborn daughter.

“This is a devastating blow for the brave staff of our close-knit Kabul bureau and the entire agency,” said AFP Global News Director Michele Leridon.

“Shah Marai was a treasured colleague who spent more than 15 years documenting the tragic conflict in Afghanistan for AFP.

“We can only honour the extraordinary strength, courage, and generosity of a photographer who covered often traumatic, horrific events with sensitivity and consummate professionalism,” Leridon said.

“We also send our condolences to the families of other journalists killed in this terrible attack.”

Tributes from Afghan officials, analysts, and journalists were pouring in on Twitter.

“NO, we can’t lose Marai, I am devastated,” former interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi wrote.

– Bloody summer –

The first blast in Kabul came shortly before 8:00am (0330 GMT) near the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence services, when a motorcyclist detonated his explosives, the interior ministry said.

It comes days after the Taliban began their spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s offer of peace talks.

A Taliban spokesman told AFP they were not involved in Monday’s attack. However, Western and Afghan officials suspect that the Taliban’s Haqqani Network sometimes assists IS in carrying out attacks.

In an announcement via its propaganda agency Amaq, IS, which has dramatically stepped up its attacks in Kabul in recent months, posted pictures of the attackers it claimed were responsible for the bombings.

The blasts follow several bloody attacks across the country, including a bombing that targeted a voter registration centre in Kabul and killed 60 people last week.

The Taliban said the offensive was partly a response to US President Donald Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan announced last August, which gave US forces more leeway to go after insurgents.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government is under pressure on multiple fronts this year as it prepares to hold long-delayed legislative elections in October, while its security forces struggle to get the upper hand on the battlefield and prevent civilian casualties.

Officials have acknowledged that security is a major concern because the Taliban and other militant groups control or contest large swathes of the country.

Some Western and Afghan officials expect 2018 to be a particularly bloody year.

General John Nicholson, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told Tolo TV last month that he expected the Taliban to carry out more suicide attacks this fighting season.

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