Afghan journalist's latest attack on media figures
ISIS gunmen attacked Malalai Maiwand, a well-known Jalalabad TV and radio journalist. Her death is one of Afghanistan's high-profile targeted killings.
An Afghan journalist was killed on her way to work on Thursday, marking the third fatal assault on a well-known media personality in just over a month and sowing fear in an age-old culture reporting on a country in war for decades.
Gunmen fired the journalist, 26-year-old Malalai Maiwand, a television and radio presenter with Enikas Radio and TV as she traveled in her car in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province's capital of eastern Afghanistan. Her driver was killed.
According to SITE Intelligence Community, which tracks ISIS announcements, the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan, active in the eastern part of the country since 2015, claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban denied involvement.
Ms. Maiwand is the latest in the high-profile targeted killings that have racked Afghanistan in recent months, particularly in major cities like Kabul. The attacks sparked a national uproar accusing the government of not defending its people.
Ms. Maiwand's father, Gul Mohamad Mullah, called on the government to locate attackers from his daughter and not just promise to investigate the case and never find killers."
Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi called the shooting "terrorist attack," while Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the killing "had nothing to do with us."
Shaharzad Akbar, chairman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said that the attack amounted to a "war crime."
Ms. Maiwand had worked at Enikas for seven years, and while there were threats to the television station, none were specifically directed at her, station head Zalmay Latifi said. According to her family, about a decade ago, gunmen killed Ms. Maiwand's mother, a women's education activist.
10 journalists and media workers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, said Mujeeb Khelvatgar, Nai's chief executive, an organization that supports open media in Afghanistan. Ms. Maiwand's death followed two other well-known media personalities killed.
Aliyas Dayee was killed when a magnetic bomb attached to his car detonated on November 12 in the southern Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Yama Siawash, a well-known former news anchor at the time working for the country's central bank, was killed by an explosive device attached to his Kabul car on Nov. 7.
Rafi Rafiq Sediqi, former head of a local news network, Khurshid TV, also died on November 26 in questionable circumstances in Kabul. An Interior Ministry spokesman said Mr. Sediqi died of "gas poisoning."
In Mr. Dayee's case, the Taliban threatened him in the days and weeks leading up to his death and told him to avoid reporting on operations of the insurgent group in Helmand Province, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Other Afghan journalists recently received similar threats from the organization, causing at least one to flee the country.
Days before Mr. Dayee was killed, he asked his brother, Modasir Dawat, to post his picture in Kabul on social media. He wanted people to believe he had quit Helmand.
"The government promised an investigation, but we've heard nothing yet," Dawat said. "We don't know who killed my brother."
The Taliban never officially claimed responsibility. On Friday, Tariq Arian, an interior ministry spokesman, said Afghan security forces had arrested people who thought they were involved in Ms. Maiwand and Mr. Dayee's killings.
Najib Sharifi, head of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, did not point the killings directly to one organization, but implied that insurgent forces were behind them. Simultaneously, there is growing suspicion that pro-government groups may be behind some of the threats in an attempt to put more pressure on the Taliban as peace negotiations continue in Qatar.
"Some groups think Afghanistan's last two decades of change are their biggest threat, and the media reflect that change, so that's why journalists are targeted," Mr. Sharifi said.
Mr. Siawash's father, Dawood, posted the same message on social media almost every day after his son's death: "Government should point out Yama Siawash's terrorist killer, otherwise the government itself is the killer."
The Taliban often use unclaimed attacks to spread fear and undermine the Afghan government—all while avoiding large-scale attacks in cities under a February deal with the U.S. that encouraged all sides to reduce violence.
Instead the insurgent group relegated its violence to the countryside, especially in offensives in the south of the country, and often used targeted killings for propaganda purposes.
The Islamic State still maintains terrorist cells in cities in Afghanistan, and last month claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul University that killed at least 22 people, and a rocket attack in downtown Kabul just weeks later that killed at least eight people. Many analysts see the party as a primary spoiler for any potential stability in Afghanistan.
Unclaimed insurgent attacks in Afghanistan rose by more than 50% from the previous quarter, accounting for nearly half of civilian casualties, according to a U.S. government watchdog study released last month. At least 200 civilians were killed nationwide in November.
In 2018, a particularly brutal year for news media workers in Afghanistan, 15 people were killed, according to Reporters Without Borders report, including nine journalists killed in twin bombings in Kabul claimed by the country's Islamic State affiliate. Five media employees were killed in 2019.
Although widespread corruption and a flailing economy continue to haunt Afghanistan, its local news outlets flourished following the 2001 U.S. invasion.
Zaki Daryabi, Afghanistan's Etilaatroz newspaper publisher, was recently awarded this year's Transparency International Anti-Corruption Award for a series of investigative reports on government mismanagement.