Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Afghan officer kills AP staffer

An award-winning photographer and a veteran correspondent were shot in a car.

Kathy Gannon reporting in late 2001 from the basement of the house in Kabul during a night of heavy bombing. AP
Kathy Gannon reporting in late 2001 from the basement of the house in Kabul during a night of heavy bombing. AP AP
Kathy Gannon reporting in late 2001 from the basement of the house in Kabul during a night of heavy bombing. AP Gallery: Afghan officer kills AP staffer
KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan police commander opened fire Friday on two Associated Press journalists, killing Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding veteran correspondent Kathy Gannon - the first known case of a security insider attacking journalists in Afghanistan.

The shooting was part of a surge in violence targeting foreigners in the run-up to Saturday's presidential elections, a pivotal moment in Afghanistan's troubled recent history that promises to be the nation's first democratic transfer of power.

Niedringhaus, 48, who had covered conflict zones from the Balkans in the 1990s to Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, died instantly.

Gannon, 60, who for many years was the news organization's Afghanistan bureau chief and currently is a special correspondent for the region, was shot three times in the wrists and shoulder. After surgery, she was in stable condition and spoke to medical personnel before being flown to Kabul.

Niedringhaus and Gannon had worked together repeatedly in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, covering the conflict from some of the most dangerous hot spots of the Taliban insurgency. They often focused on the war's impact on Afghan civilians, and they embedded several times with the Afghan police and military, reporting on the Afghan government's determination to build up its often ill-equipped forces to face the fight against militants.

Gannon, who had sources inside the Taliban leadership, was one of the few Western reporters allowed into Afghanistan during the militant group's rule in the 1990s.

The two journalists were traveling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots in the eastern city of Khost, under the protection of Afghan security forces. They were in their own car with a translator and an AP Television News freelancer waiting for the convoy to move after arriving at the heavily guarded security forces base in eastern Afghanistan.

A unit commander identified by authorities as Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled "Allahu akbar" - God is great - and fired on them in the backseat with an AK-47, said the freelance videographer, who witnessed the attack, which left the rear door of the car riddled with bullet holes. The officer then surrendered to the other police and was arrested.

While there have been repeated cases in recent years of Afghan police or military personnel opening fire on and killing international troops working with the country's security forces, Friday's attack was the first known insider shooting of journalists.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility for the attack. Khost Provincial Police Chief Faizullah Ghyrat said the 25-year-old attacker confessed to the shooting and told authorities he was from Parwan province, northwest of Kabul, and was acting to avenge the deaths of family members in a NATO bombing. The claim could not be corroborated, and officials said they were still investigating the shooter's background.

Ghyrat said the police commander told authorities he had seen the journalists, decided to act, and then demanded the assault rifle from one of his subordinates.

Kim Gamel Associated Press
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