Two Associated Press journalists were shot in Afghanistan Friday while travelling with a convoy delivering election ballots. One of the victims, a photographer, was killed instantly.
The attack took place en route to Tanai, a district in the eastern province of Khost near the border with Pakistan. The two were shot in the back seat of a car by an Afghan police officer who approached shouting “Allahu Akbar” – “God is Great” in Arabic - and opened fire.
Anja Niedringhaus, 48, a German photographer, was killed instantly while Kathy Gannon, 60, a Canadian reporter, was wounded in the attack. Gannon is in hospital in stable condition, the Washington Post reports.
"The loss of Anja Niedringhaus and the serious injuries to Kathy Gannon in Khost while covering preparations for elections reflect the heightened dangers of reporting from Afghanistan," said Bob Dietz, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Both women, widely experienced in conflict zones, are recognized for their decades of fearless reporting. As pre-election violence mounts, Afghanistan has become a dangerous assignment on par with the height of the Iraq war or the current situation in Syria."
Violence has increased in recent weeks leading up to Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first democratic transfer of power.
Gannon and Niedringhaus had worked together repeatedly since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Niedringhaus had experience covering conflict zones from the Balkans in the 1990s to the more recent conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Gannon formerly worked as the AP’s Afghanistan bureau chief and currently is a special correspondent in the region. She reportedly had sources within the Taliban leadership, and was one of the few Western reporters allowed into Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s.
The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the vote and has recently increased attacks on civilians, including foreigners. The group also claimed responsibility for the killing of a Swedish correspondent last month.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility for the attack on Niedringhaus and Gannon, according to the AP. Khost provincial police chief Faizullah Ghyrat said the attacker admitted to the shooting. Gyrat said the 25-year-old shooter told authorities the reason behind the attack was revenge for the deaths of family members in a NATO bombing in his home in Parwan province, northwest of Kabul. Officials said they are still investigating the man’s background.
This attack is the first known case of a security insider attacking journalists in Afghanistan, according to the AP.