image

Afghanistan

Islamic State claims suicide attacks in Kabul that killed at least 25, including nine journalists

Second bomber said to have been disguised as a journalist and victims included the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse news service

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 2:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 10:18pm

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

The attacks, claimed by Islamic State, are the latest deadly assaults on the Afghan capital and have spurred an outpouring of grief among journalists, many of whom took to Twitter to post tributes to their colleagues.

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 six journalists were among those killed. It also said 49 people had been wounded, amid 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 blew up 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.

At the same time, the BBC said one of its Afghan reporters was killed in an attack in the eastern province of Khost. The broadcaster said Ahmad Shah, 29, had worked for its Afghan service for more than a year and “established himself as a highly capable journalist who was a respected and popular member of the team”.

BBC World Service Director Jamie Angus called it a “devastating loss”.

Talib Mangal, spokesman for the provincial governor in Khost, said Shah was shot dead, without providing further details.

Reporters Without Borders said nine journalists were killed in the Kabul attacks – 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,” AFP Global News Director Michele Leridon said. “Shah Marai was a treasured colleague who spent more than 15 years documenting the tragic conflict in Afghanistan.”

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.

The first blast came soon before 8:00am near the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence services, when a motorcyclist detonated his explosives, the interior ministry said.

It came days after the Taliban kicked off 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 said they were not involved in the attack.

In an announcement issued via its propaganda agency Amaq, IS, which has stepped up attacks in Kabul in recent months, vowed to target US forces and “their intelligence agents” as well as their “internal supporters”.

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

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.

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

Additional reporting by Associated Press