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Attack in Afghanistan kills one Western journalist, wounds another

Anja Niedringhaus, an Associated Press photographer, was killed as she waited in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots in Khost. Her colleague Kathy Gannon was wounded.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP
The sensitive eye of photographer Anja Niedringhaus is on display in this photo she took Thursday of a girl helping her brother down from a security barrier outside the Independent Election Commission in Khost, Afghanistan. Ms. Niedringhaus was killed Friday in Khost, in an attack by an Afghan police officer.

Two female, Western journalists were shot in eastern Afghanistan in a disturbing trend of violence against media workers as the country prepares to elect a new president tomorrow.

The Taliban have worked to instill fear in the electorate with a series of high-profile attacks ahead of the election to succeed Hamid Karzai, who has been in power since 2001.

One of the journalists, Anja Niedringhaus, a German photographer with the Associated Press, died in the attack; Kathy Gannon, a Canadian reporter for the AP, is seriously injured, Baryalai Rawan, a spokesman for the governor in Khost Province, told Bloomberg News.

The incident occurred in the eastern town of Khost, near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, as the two traveled with a convoy of election workers delivering ballots. As they waited for the convoy to move, a police unit commander approached their vehicle, reportedly uttering "God is Great" before firing bullets. Afghanistan’s interior ministry said the shooter has been detained.

Before this attack, Reporters Without Borders had condemned violence against journalists reporting on the election. This attack follows the death of Sardar Ahmad last month, an Agence France-Presse reporter who was killed when Taliban gunmen assaulted a major Kabul hotel where he was dining. Earlier last month, a Swedish journalist, Nils Homer, was shot on the streets of the capital.

 “The fact that these two attacks occurred in places in the capital with a reputation for being safe can only have a dissuasive impact on media preparing to cover the election,” said Réza Moïni, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Iran-Afghanistan desk.

“This violence is partly responsible for the withdrawal of certain foreign election observer missions, making the election’s transparency more dependent on the presence of Afghan and foreign journalists."

The Taliban said they would use suicide bombs to target voters and officials, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in an April 2 statement, according to Bloomberg. Afghanistan has dispatched 200,000 troops to secure the election, in what the BBC's Afghanistan correspondent David Loyn says is the biggest military operation since the fall of the Taliban.

Many Afghans are attending rallies and appear engaged in the vote despite the threats and attacks. 

“The spike in violence has increased fear among Afghans and foreigners,” reports The Christian Science Monitor from Kabul. “But for some, it has also prompted new defiance in the face of an insurgency that has only grown bolder as US and NATO forces prepare to withdraw later this year, and President Hamid Karzai steps down after 12 years in power.”

Reporters Without Borders said it remained optimistic this week that the media were also resolute in sustaining their reports on the election. “Most of the media stepped up their efforts to provide good coverage of the election campaign and seemed determined to take the necessary preventive measures on 5 April. We reiterate our support for the media and we encourage them to continue prioritizing the safety of their reporters.”

The two AP journalists are being honored by their colleagues in the wake of the attack. "Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart, and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss," said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll in New York.

Ms. Niedringhaus was no stranger to violence. The German photographer has covered the major hotspots from Iraq to Pakistan, reports The Local, an English-language newspaper in Germany. In 1997 her foot was crushed by a moving police car during demonstrations in Belgrade. A year later, in Kosovo, she was blown out of a car by a grenade, and a year after that was part of a group of journalists bombed, mistakenly, by NATO. 

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