KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A series of coordinated back-to-back bombings in Kabul and a targeted killing in Khost province have contributed to the deadliest day for Afghan journalists in 16 years, with at least 29 people — including 10 journalists — killed in the attacks.
Early Monday morning, a suicide bomber belonging to the so-called Islamic State group traveling on a motorcycle detonated his explosives near the headquarters of the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency. Within minutes of the first attack, as Afghan journalists for international and local media, gathered at the attack site, another bomber struck.
According to security officials, the second bomber, reported to be carrying a camera in his hand, detonated his explosives as journalists from several outlets gathered to document the scene of the initial explosion.
Knowing that journalists often convene at the site of an attack, the bomber purposely carried a camera with him, likely to give his claim of being a journalist more credence. The move could lead to more troubles for the nation’s press, as cameras are often seen as a sign of legitimacy for journalists by the Afghan National Security Forces, who often ask print and online journalists who arrive at press scenes, “Where’s your camera?”
Among the journalists killed were three working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — Abadullah Hananzai, Maharram Durrani, and Sabawoon Kakar. Kakar succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
TOLO News, the largest private news station in the country, lost one of their cameramen, Yar Mohammad Tokhi. The station had previously been the target of a Taliban-claimed attack in 2016 that killed seven of their production staff.
Afghanistan’s second-largest private news station, 1TV, also lost two of their staff — reporters, Ghazi Rasooli and cameraman Nowroz Ali Rajabi. Another local television station, Mashal TV, lost two of their staff, reporter, Salim Talash, and cameraman, Ali Salim.
Agence France-Presse also lost their chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, whose startling images — including many from horrific attack sites like the one he was reporting from at the time of his death — have been used in mainstream media publications ranging from The Los Angeles Times to The Atlantic.
As one of the most well-known photographers in Afghanistan, tributes immediately began pouring out to the AFP’s Marai.
Masoud Popalzai, a journalist who has worked with both the BBC and CNN, said he is still in shock at the death of his friend and colleague.
A photograph taken by Shah Marai of AFP in March 2018. Marai was one of the journalists killed in Monday’s attacks in Kabul. (Credit: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Popalzai, who knew Marai for more than 14 years, described his friend as a “courageous, hard-working and committed journalist” who faced the challenges of the profession head on.
For many journalists in the nation, Marai was a constant, stalwart figure of the media in the nation. Whether it was a press conference with Afghan and global leaders, the site of yet another tragic bombing or a celebration of a sporting triumph or a holiday, Marai was there, camera in hand.
Subel Bhandari, who spent five years reporting in Afghanistan, said Marai earned his reputation as one of the best photographers in the country because of his ability to see “beauty in simple things.”
Marai, who is survived by his wife and six children, was laid to rest in a cemetery north of Kabul.
Monday’s violence against journalists did not end in Kabul. At around 4 PM local time, Ahmad Shah, a reporter for the BBC’s Pashto language service, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in the eastern province of Khost. Twenty-nine-year-old Shah, who had been married only six months prior, is survived by his wife.
Shah’s death marks the second killing of a BBC reporter in a week. Last week, Abdul Manan Arghand, a reporter based in the southern province of Kandahar, was killed by motorcycle-bound gunmen. He was traveling to work.
Bhandari said although journalists have always been targeted, recent events — including the Nov. 2017 bombing targeting the Pashto-language Shamshad TV — show that increasingly, journalists are becoming the targets.
“It used to be that you could take certain precautions, but that’s become much harder to do now. This is why we are seeing so many journalists being killed while reporting,” he told ThinkProgress.
“Sometimes they [journalists] are innocent bystanders, other times they are neutral targets. But most of the times, these days, they are the real targets.”
For many, this is borne out by the fact that the second attacker, with a camera in his hand, purposely chose to arrive at the site after journalists had convened on yet another scene of death and destruction in the Afghan capital.