Journalists Suffer Deadliest Day in Afghanistan Since at Least 2002

Journalists and others responding to the first blast in Kabul were caught as victims in the second. Government and diplomatic offices are heavily present in the area.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Twin bombings in Kabul on Monday killed at least 25 people, including nine journalists. It was the deadliest single attack involving journalists in Afghanistan since at least 2002, and one of the most lethal ever worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A 10th journalist, from the BBC’s Afghan service, was shot and killed in a separate attack on Monday outside Kabul.

The bombings were the latest spasm of a conflict that began more than a decade and a half ago and shows no sign of ebbing.

In a two-stage attack, bombers detonated a first device during the morning rush and a second roughly 40 minutes later, killing emergency workers and journalists who had by then reached the site, officials said.

A branch of the Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attacks, which came just eight days after the group took responsibility for another explosion that killed 57 people lining up to register to vote.

A spokesman for the Afghan police, Hashmat Stanikzai, said the attacks in Kabul on Monday had killed at least 25 people, including four police officers, and wounded 49, but officials and witnesses at the scene said the final casualty figures were likely to be higher.

At least nine journalists died, including the chief photographer in Afghanistan for Agence France-Presse, Shah Marai, who had covered his war-torn homeland for 20 years.

[See some of the extensive body of work left behind by Shah Marai.]

The Afghan government said in a statement that the bombings constituted an attack on Islam and described the targeting of journalists as “an unforgivable crime.”

The attacks underscored the unending nature of violence in Afghanistan, which has suffered wave after wave of civil wars, foreign invasions and coups for the past half-century.

The current phase of the conflict began in 2001 with an American-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban regime but that never entirely forced out the Taliban or other emergent extremist groups, like the Islamic State.

American and Afghan officials believe some attacks are the result of collaboration between elements of both the Islamic State and the Taliban.

Despite more than $100 billion in aid and the continuous presence of American troops in the country, the Western-backed Afghan government has struggled to exert full control over its territory, its forces even losing control of a major city twice.

Urban attacks on civilians have become a fact of life and have turned day-to-day existence into a lottery. More than 210 people have been killed in public spaces since the start of the year.

The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, recently offered a peace deal to the Taliban, who control or contest more than 40 percent of Afghan territory, according to American military data released in January. Weeks later, the Taliban announced a new operation targeting Americans and their supporters.

Monday’s assault occurred against a backdrop of renewed American commitment to the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Despite initially promising to curb involvement in Afghanistan, President Trump agreed to send more troops last summer.

American airstrikes in the country have reached an intensity not seen since 2012, according to military records. Over 14,000 American forces are now stationed in Afghanistan, down from around 100,000 in 2010 but up from 9,800 in 2015.

Around 2,400 American soldiers have been killed on Afghan soil since 2002, while research by Brown University suggests more than 31,000 civilians have died from violence in the same period.

“I don’t think there is any serious analyst of the situation in Afghanistan who believes that the war is winnable,” Laurel Miller, a former acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department, said in a podcast last summer.

According to Mr. Stanikzai of the Afghan police, the chaos Monday began at 8 a.m., when a bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up in the Shah Darak district of central Kabul. The attack took place near a guarded street behind the American Embassy that leads to many offices, including those of the Afghan intelligence agency.

The second explosion, which was described as considerably larger, hit as emergency workers gathered near the police cordon blocking the area.

Some Afghan officials said the second bomber had been disguised as a photographer, though there was no independent confirmation.

“The second explosion was big, and it was among the crowd, like reporters and government staff who were waiting to go to the office,” said Muhammad Yunus, 38, a witness. “I was very close to the second explosion; I saw dozens of bodies laying on the ground.”

Mr. Marai, the photographer, had previously written of his pride at often being among the first journalists to reach a bomb site.

After a colleague was unable to immediately reach the scene of the first bombing on Monday, Mr. Marai sent a message of reassurance, saying he was already at work at the site.

“No worry man, I am here,” he said by WhatsApp, in a message later published by his agency.

Moments later, the second bomb exploded.

Four broadcasters for Afghan news outlets were also killed, according to Nai, an Afghan nongovernmental organization working on media freedom. Radio Free Europe later said three of its current or future employees had died, bringing the total news media death toll to nine.

One of those killed, Yar Mohammad Tokhi, a 54-year-old cameraman for Tolonews, was due to be married this month, said a friend and former colleague, Rateb Noori.

A second casualty, Abadullah Hanazai, a 28-year-old reporter for RFE/RL in Kabul, was his family’s main breadwinner and had been married just seven months, according to his colleague Ibrahim Safi.

The BBC announced that a 10th journalist — a 29-year-old reporter for the BBC Afghan service, Ahmad Shah — had been shot in a separate attack in Khost Province by unknown gunmen.

In a third attack in Afghanistan on Monday, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into an armored Romanian vehicle beside a mosque outside the southern city of Kandahar, setting off an explosion that killed 11 children and injured 16 people, officials said.

In a fourth episode, in eastern Afghanistan, one American soldier was killed and another wounded on Monday, the United States Army announced.

The latest round of violence raises fresh concerns about whether the Afghan security services can create a safe enough environment for parliamentary elections that are to be held in September.

Of Afghanistan’s 7,355 polling stations, nearly 1,000 are outside government control, according to security officials.

Participation is already expected to be low; only 190,000 out of an estimated 14 million voters signed up to vote in the first week of registration. Many voters are disappointed by the corruption rife within Afghan politics and by successive fraudulent elections.

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