Taliban gunmen who used small firearms to carry out an attack at a luxury hotel in Kabul on Friday killed at least nine civilians, including two young girls.
The children killed belonged to well-known Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad and his wife, both of whom were also killed in the assault. Ahmad's young son, reportedly, was also critically wounded by gunfire and remains clinging to life in a nearby hospital.
According to the Guardian:
Teenage Taliban gunmen who slipped into a top luxury hotel in Kabul on Thursday night shot and killed two young girls along with seven other civilians in the latest attack in a wave of violence hitting Afghanistan ahead of presidential elections. Six others were injured.
Four foreigners were also among the victims of the carefully planned assault, which was apparently aimed at undermining a vote now just two weeks away. Election monitors were among the Serena hotel's guests.
It came days after a marketplace bomb killed 16 people in the north and just hours after a complex attack on a police headquarters in Jalalabad city claimed at least 18 lives. On Friday morning an attack in southern Kandahar killed three. The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the poll and said anyone who votes or works on the election is risking their life.
"This attack is connected to the election, our enemy is trying to sow uncertainty about our future," said Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, at a news conference the morning after the assault on the hotel. "They are threatening the security of the election, which is one of the biggest events in the history of Afghanistan."
The Associated Press adds:
The attackers hid their small pistols and ammunition in their shoes and socks, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said — but it was not clear how the weapons went undetected.
At the time of the attack, the hotel restaurant was packed with Afghans celebrating the eve of the Persian New Year, Nowruz as well as foreigners who frequent the hotel.
Among the victims was Sardar Ahmad, a widely respected 40-year-old Afghan journalist with the French news agency Agence France-Presse. The agency said his wife and two children were also killed and their youngest son was undergoing emergency treatment after being badly wounded in the attack.
Ahmad also ran the Kabul Pressistan media company and joined AFP in 2003 to become the agency's senior reporter in Kabul. He covered all aspects of life, war and politics in his native Afghanistan, according to a statement tweeted by the news agency.
Two Canadians were also killed in the attack. It came on the heels of an uptick in bombings and shootings against foreigners in the Afghan capital, something that had been relatively rare. Earlier this month, a Swedish journalist was shot on the street and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners was attacked by a suicide bomber and gunmen in January.
Following news of his death and that of his family members, colleagues of Ahmad and those who knew his work were responding on Twitter:
And Emma Graham-Harrison, the Guardian's correspondent in Kabul, posted this reflection, which read in part:
The first clue that something might have happened to Ahmad was the silence on his popular Twitter account @Pressistan, normally a stream of breaking news updates for thousands of followers when anything happened, almost anywhere and anytime in Afghanistan.
Afghan journalists have few illusions about the danger of their work, and Ahmad was no exception. He covered many attacks just like the one that destroyed his family. "I don't think the experiences of a journalist in a country like Afghanistan and a city like Kabul are that pleasant," he said in an interview two years ago. "For example, suicide attacks: we have to go to the scene and look at something very tragic, we have no choice."
Still, he relished the job that he had stumbled into in 2001, working as a translator for Japanese correspondents after the fall of the Taliban regime. "I had hardly traveled at all. Now I've seen more than 90% of the country. It's so interesting and exciting to travel, its one of the reasons why I continued with journalism."
Two years later he was hired by AFP to cover daily press conferences at the Bagram airbase and never looked back. He was "a "dedicated and courageous journalist, a cornerstone of our team in Afghanistan who delivered, every day, exceptional coverage of the news in extremely difficult conditions," said AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog.
His death was mourned by an extraordinary mix of Afghans at home and abroad, from warlord-turned-politician Abdul Rashid Dostum to Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi. "How dreadful is your death my friend Sardar. All our jollity and NewYear hopes turned into chagrin and melancholy. RIP," Faizi said on twitter.
Journalist friends accustomed to seeing tragedy from close quarters mixed grief with rage at his death, and united to arrange a blackout on coverage of the Taliban.
"The journalism family in Afghanistan, in a collective decision, has decided to boycott coverage of news related to the Taliban for a period of 15 days," they said in a statement posted in Facebook. "We also ask the Taliban for an explanation of how they justify the shooting from close-range of innocent children."
"My dear Sardar rest in peace! Fuck you terrorists you bloody killed my best friend with his all families," Parwiz Shamal, a journalist with TOLO, an Afghan television station, said on Twitter.