The Islamic State is claiming responsibility for twin suicide bombings in Kabul on Monday. The coordinated blasts—being described as the deadliest attacks on the media since 2001—killed over two dozen people including at least nine journalists.
At least 45 people were also wounded in the bombings.
"Posing as a journalist to carry out an attack is also perfidious, a war crime in which the attacker assumes civilian status."
—Patricia Gossman, Human Rights WatchThe first blast in the central Shash Darak area was from explosives carried by a man on motorbike and targeted the headquarters of Afghanistan's intelligence services, the National Directorate of Security.
The second suicide bomber appeared to carry out a double-tap strike roughly 30 minutes later, targeting rescue workers and the journalists who came to cover the event.
"The bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among the crowd," Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai told Agence France-Presse.
"To attack non-combatants aiding the wounded and dying is an attack on the right to health," writes Patricia Gossman, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher on Afghanistan. "Killing journalists is an attack on freedom of expression. Under the laws of war, deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes.
Among the 26 victims was AFP chief photographer in Kabul and father of six Shah Marai, who had rushed to the scene. An AFP obituary for Marai describes "His powerful photographs [as a] testament to the unimaginable violence he witnessed over the years—as well as the fragile moments of beauty and joy in a country pummelled by decades of war."
Agence France-Presse's chief photographer in Kabul Shah Marai, who was killed covering a suicide bombing on Monday, was a charismatic, courageous journalist who was dedicated to reporting on Afghanistan's wrenching conflict. His @AFP obit: https://t.co/Z1mYPDjHTS pic.twitter.com/4BN02FRqTr
— Dmitry Zaks (@dmitryzaksAFP) April 30, 2018
"This tragedy reminds us of the danger that our teams continually face on the ground and the essential role journalists play for democracy. Journalists were targeted by this attack. Our thoughts and our condolences go out to his family and the families of the other journalists killed," said AFP chairman Fabrice Fries.
Other members of the media killed in the attack were Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Abadullah Hananzai, Maharram Durrani, and Sabawoon Kakar; Tolo News's Yar Mohammad Tokhi; and Afghanistan's 1TV's Ghazi Rasooli and Nowroz Ali Rajabi.
"This terrorist attack is a war crime and an organized attack on the Afghan media," declared the Afghanistan Federation of Journalists (AFJ).
Anthony Bellanger, head of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), also denounced the attack, calling it "a terrible day for journalists all over the world."
"The journalists were on duty to report about the earlier attack, simply informing the public. The IFJ strongly condemns the killing and demands urgent action from the government to ensure justice for the slain journalists. This act of terrorism targeting journalists also shows that Afghanistan, despite being the world’s most dangerous country for journalists for many years, has not done enough to ensure the safety of journalists," he said.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, similarly said he was "outraged by the attack which appears to have deliberately targeted journalists; this attack, coming just ahead of World Press Freedom Day, is a direct assault on freedom of expression."
Also on Monday, BBC reporter Ahmad Shah was killed in a separate attack in the eastern Afghan province of Khost.
In addition, a car bomb targeting a foreign military convoy in the southern province of Kandahar exploded Monday, killing at least 11 children who stood outside a religious school nearby.
The day's deadly events come just a week after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a voter center in Kabul that killed at least 57 people.
Writing on AFP's Correspondent blog in 2016, Marai described the little hope he had for his country.
"Fifteen years after the American intervention, the Afghans find themselves without money, without work, just with the Taliban at their doorstep," he wrote.
Despite stocked stores and new buildings, "there is no more hope. Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity." He added: "I have never felt life to have so little prospects and I don't see a way out. It's a time of anxiety."