Two American journalists are believed dead in northwest Afghanistan, diplomatic and resistance forces say here. Filmmaker Lee Shapiro and his soundman, Jim Lindalos, both of New York, were killed Oct. 11, reportedly in a Soviet or Afghan government ambush, according to United States consular officials.
However, the resistance group that accompanied the film team has a poor reputation among most informed observers, and doubts have arisen over whether the two Americans did indeed die in an Afghan government or Soviet attack.
The reported deaths would bring the number of Western journalists killed in Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion to at least five, three of them American.
``If you look at all the journalists who have gone in over the years, a lot of them have been very lucky to get out alive,'' a Western diplomat said.
A spokesman for Hezb-i-Islami, the group that accompanied the film team, said they had still not received all the facts. ``From what we have heard, the two Americans were killed together with two mujahideen [holy warriors], and that the interpreter was seriously injured,'' he said.
The two journalists, who had trekked clandestinely into Afghanistan last May to shoot a television documentary, were apparently making their way back from the northern part of the country to the Pakistan border when they were attacked in Paghman District, northwest of Kabul.
``As they traveled with different commanders, we are trying to contact them to find out what happened,'' a Hezb spokesman said. ``We are still trying to solve these problems, how they were ambushed, what happened to their equipment, and what has happened to their bodies.''
The injured translator, other sources say, is expected to arrived in Pakistan later this week.
Shapiro's film team had difficulty finding a resistance group to take them inside the country, but were finally accepted by Hezb, journalists here say. Hezb, which is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is one of the seven exiled parties based in Peshawar and has been linked with a number of incidents involving foreign journalists and aid workers over the past few years.
Thierry Niquet, a French relief worker, disappeared last year in northern Afghanistan while traveling with a Hezb group. In June, officials in Peshawar said he had died in a Soviet ambush. Nevertheless, they have frustrated efforts by West European aid organizations to dispatch an investigation team to the region. Some French relief coordinators believe Niquet may have been robbed and murdered.
In further incidents, two British journalists had their film confiscated by a Hezb group while traveling through Nuristan in northeast Afghanistan last month. Hezb guerrillas also reportedly kidnapped seven French doctors and three aid workers in Badakshan Province recently. The guerrillas hijacked 96 forces loaded with 3 tons of medicine meant to supply two resistance-run hospitals for one year in the northern province, French sources say. Mr. Hekmatyar has consistently denied such allegations.