Two foreign women journalists face deadly shooting in Afghanistan

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Journalists Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon
During an August 27, 2013 trip to Zurich, Switzerland Associated Press photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus, right, with AP news journalist Kathy Gannon, speak to the group that has gathered during a visit to the photo agency Keystone. Image: Walter Bieri/Keystone/Associated Press

(WNN) Eastern city of Khost, AFGHANISTAN, SOUTH ASIA: On the approach of the eve of Saturday’s presidential and local provincial elections in Afghanistan on Friday, two foreign women journalists, one fatally killed and another injured severely, were attacked by gunfire.

As two experienced and seasoned women journalists Anja Neidrinhaus and Kathy Gannon had worked together in Afghanistan numerous times before. On assignment and traveling in the region to specifically cover Afghanistan’s Saturday elections, Neidringhaus and Gannon were working together on assignment with Associated Press news. They were both looking forward to their time together.

Although the information is not completely verified, early investigations now underway have identified the alleged shooter as an Afghan police unit commander named Naqibullah. Aiming a gun that has been described by the Associated Press as an AK-046 rifle at the two women journalists he fired the repeating rifle numerous times.

The two journalists were traveling in their own car in a convoy that was filled with election workers who were set to distribute pamphlets to encourage people to vote on Saturday. Standing just outside Niedringhaus and Gannon’s car, the shooter aimed at the back door where the women journalists were sitting. Those present at the scene described that the assailant said, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great), just before the shooting began. After firing the assailant surrendered himself over to other Afghan police officers, who quickly arrested him.

48-year-old photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was killed immediately when she was shot. Sitting in the back seat she occupied with 60-year-old Canadian journalist Kathy Gannon the women had little protection. During the shooting incident the car was not moving. Gannon was shot twice in the arm and the shoulder and rushed to urgent medical care. She currently remains in stable condition following emergency surgery for her injuries.

At the time of the shooting the convoy had just reached the mountainous city of Khost, population 160,000, which is located only 25 miles from Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan’s Northern Waziristan region.

Dangers on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan for those who are considered ‘western outsiders’ are also a well known fact in the city of Khost.

“Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there,” said AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll to the press immediately following the announcement of the deadly shooting.

“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,” Carroll added.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland with the Associated Press from 2002 to the present, Niedringhaus was well-known among other journalists and news media as a talented and widely experienced photographer who was excellent at gaining the trust of her photographic subjects. The German-born Pulitzer Prize winner received her award for outstanding coverage on the war in Iraq. While in Iraq she was also lauded as the only female news photojournalist working in Iraq at the time. In recognition of her talents in photography Niedringhaus also received a Neiman Fellowship award in journalism from Harvard University in 2007.

In a recent April 1 tweet on Twitter Kathy Gannon included her friend Anja in a happy and excited message only three days before the fatal shooting incident occurred on Friday April 4.

“Having lunch with my friend Nancy Dupree in Kabul taken by my friend @NiedringhausAP Nancy and her work is inspiring,” said Gannon as she described the two journalists’ wonderful visit with Kabul-based humanitarian Nancy Dupree. Dupree is one of the founders of the Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation, which today provides a wide array of books, documents, art and film chronicling the history of Afghanistan for students attending Kabul University.

From the early part of the presidential campaign Afghanistan’s day to vote on Saturday has been fraught with extremist intimidation and violence. In spite of this a diverse group of Afghans throughout the region are standing in long lines as tens of thousands of prospective voters show up early to vote regardless of the danger.

In December 2009 a suicide bomber, who later was identified as a member of the Afghan army, killed eight CIA officers at the U.S. base located in Khost. Those killed in the attack included Jennifer Matthews who was brought to the region on assignment in Khost as one of the top CIA experts working to track members of Al-Qaeda.

In spite of threats from local extremists trying to limit the turn-out for the elections, the country is ‘a buzz’ with excitement with a hope for change for those who stand in long lines to vote in Afghanistan. This fact is one that journalists Niedringhaus and Gannon were sure to have felt before the tragic shooting event in Khost began on Friday.

In elections across Afghanistan more than 300 women are now running for political office, as Afghan women throughout the country are seeing hope for the future of Afghanistan through their ballot vote. But they are also are facing real and understandable fear as Taliban extremists continue to try to disrupt the elections.

This year one courageous woman, hematologist Dr. Habiba Sarobi, is running as the only woman vice-presidential candidate in Afghanistan. She is sharing her political ticket with presidential candidate and former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul.

Speaking Dari as an ethnic Hazara, Dr. Sarobi was also the first women in Afghanistan to become governor of a province. Now as a vice-presidential candidate, and former governor of Bamiyan Province, Sarobi has been traveling extensively to encourage voters to add her name to their ballots. Sarobi also served as Minister of Women’s Affairs and Education under President Hamid Karzai.

“Everywhere – I was in Helmand, I was in Kandahar – but I had a big rally with women in Kandahar, and women in Helmand participated in the same rally with men, and a big part of that were women,” outlined Sarobi recently in an April interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “It seems that now it is acceptable for the people,” she continued.

According to the latest count of foreign and local journalists killed in Afghanistan compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Anja Niedringhaus is the 30 journalist to be killed in the line of duty. Other women journalists killed previously in Afghanistan include Michelle Lang of Canada as well as Afghan radio broadcast producer for Peace Radio Zakia Zaki, and numerous others.

To see the outstanding photography work of Anja Niedringhaus, including her coverage in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, Bosnia, Pakistan and Libya, LINK HERE


In a tribute to slain woman journalist the Associated Press has released this video today.

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer who worked for The Associated Press, was killed when an Afghan policeman opened fire while she and AP correspondent Kathy Gannon were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan.

Niedringhaus joined the AP in 2002, and while based in Geneva worked throughout the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was part of the AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq. She also covered nine Olympic Games and other sports events around the world.

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