An Afghan police commander has shot dead a female German photographer working for the Associated Press on the eve of presidential elections, in an attack that also left a Canadian colleague wounded.
The journalists were shot in their car on Friday in the Tanai district of Khost province, in the country’s east. They were reporting on distribution of ballot papers for the election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.
The incident comes as Afghanistan undertakes a massive security operation to protect voters and polling officials, after the Taliban pledged to disrupt Saturday’s ballot with violence.
Anja Niedringhaus is the third journalist working for international media to be killed in Afghanistan during the election campaign, after Swedish journalist Nils Horner and Sardar Ahmad of Agence France-Presse.
“Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed instantly,” AP said in a report from Kabul.
“Kathy Gannon, the reporter, was wounded twice and is receiving medical attention. She was described as being in a stable condition and talking to medical personnel.”
AP said the police commander opened fire while the two journalists were in their car, travelling with election workers delivering ballots in Khost city.
“As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is Great – and opened fire on them in the back seat,” the news agency said.
“He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested.”
Khost provincial governor Abdul Jabbar Naeemi and other officials confirmed that the attacker was a police commander who was detained immediately after the incident.
“Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll in the AP report.
“Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss.”
Khost borders Pakistan’s restive North Waziristan tribal area, a stronghold of the Haqqani militant network blamed for numerous high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, many targeting foreigners.
Kabul has been rocked by a string of high-profile attacks in the run-up to Saturday’s election, which will be the first democratic handover of power in Afghanistan’s turbulent history.
Ahmad, AFP’s senior Afghan reporter, was killed along with his wife and two of his three children on March 20 when gunmen smuggled pistols into Kabul’s high-security Serena hotel and shot dead nine people including four foreigners.
Horner, 51, a veteran of Swedish national radio, was shot dead in March in a Kabul street while researching a story about a January attack on a nearby restaurant which killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners.
In addition to Horner’s murder and the Serena assault, a charity’s guesthouse has come under attack, along with offices of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).
The Taliban said they had no hand in Friday’s attack on the two female journalists working for the Associated Press.
“The freedom fighters were not involved in this attack,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents.
“It could be a personal issue.”