10 of my colleagues were killed today: Afghanistan reporter recounts bombing in Kabul

Suicide bombing targeted journalists as the overall casualty toll reached 25 killed and 45 wounded

FILE - In this file photo taken April 17, 2012 and released by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, April 30, 2018, showing AFP photographer Shah Marai at the AFP bureau in Kabul. AFP chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, was killed Monday April 30, 2018, AFP has confirmed, in a secondary explosion targeting a group of journalists who had rushed to the scene of a suicide blast in the Afghan capital.(Johannes Eisele/AFP via AP)

It isn’t unusual to wake up to the news of an explosion in the Afghan capital Kabul. As the city comes under frequent attacks—increasingly in the recent years—the morning and evening rush hours remain prime targets for terrorists to inflict the most casualties. This was one of those mornings.

I live with another journalist and we woke up to the news of an explosion. The area attacked had been targeted before on account of it being a crowded commercial area. Instinctively, we started the process of news gathering, as a reporter would in such a situation, as our colleagues around the city were doing at that very moment.

The details came in slowly, between sips of coffee, phone calls and text messages. And then, half an hour after the first reports of an explosion, came the news that there had been a second bomb. One that specifically targeted the journalists who had come to the site of the first attack.

This wasn’t the first time that insurgents have used a follow up bomb to target the responders and those who come out to help the victims of an attack. This time though it had claimed the life of someone I knew and had worked alongside.

AFP's senior photojournalist Shah Marai Faizi had been killed. Like everyone else, I was in shock, and it took me a while to process that information.

This photo taken in 2013 shows Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Shah Marai posing for a picture with one of his young sons, in Kabul.
Shah Marai, Agence France-Presse's chief photographer in Kabul, who was killed covering a suicide bombing on April 30, 2018, was a charismatic, courageous journalist who was dedicated to reporting on Afghanistan's wrenching conflict.
 / AFP PHOTO / Ben Sheppard

The recent wave of insurgency hasn’t cared much for civilian life. If anything, those attacks claimed by ISIS have made it a point to target as many innocent lives as possible. They’ve worked to infect society with fear and dread, and then they've capitalised on it. People are weaker when broken down to their basic human emotions. And today, like too many other days, emotions in Kabul are running very basal.

I left home shortly after on an unrelated errand. I knew I would be passing close to the site of the attack and could perhaps talk to eyewitnesses. All along, I kept thinking of Shah Marai, trying to recall the last time we met.

I hadn’t known him well but our interactions were always cordial and I had followed his work closely. As a freelance reporter, my stories are often published alongside images taken by agency photojournalists, and I have had the pleasure of having Shah Marai’s photographs add another dimension to my reporting.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 7, 2013 an Afghan boy walks with balloons for sale on a cold winter's day in Kabul.
Agence France-Presse's chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, was killed April 30, AFP has confirmed, in a secondary explosion targeting a group of journalists who had rushed to the scene of a suicide blast in the Afghan capital. Marai joined AFP as a driver in 1996, the year the Taliban seized power, and began taking pictures on the side, covering stories including the US invasion in 2001. In 2002 he became a full-time photo stringer, rising through the ranks to become chief photographer in the bureau. He leaves behind six children, including a newborn daughter.

  / AFP PHOTO / Shah MARAI

As I navigated the road blocks that tend to spring up across the city in the aftermath of such attacks, more reports continued to pour in, one by one, of more journalists who had lost their lives in the attack. People were calling to check in on me because at least one of the killed was a woman – Mahram Durani from Radio Azadi.

I made a few calls of my own to make sure the Afghan colleagues I work with frequently were okay. One of them told me he had heard from security forces that the second attacker had disguised himself as a journalist. Armed with a camera he was able to get close to the site of the attack, which was closed to the public. Similar to how Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Masood was killed shortly before 9/11, it is believed he had a bomb hidden inside his camera, which he detonated amid the journalists.

As the death toll continued to rise, it still seemed surreal that so many of our colleagues had paid such a heavy price just for doing their jobs. Even as reports continue to pour in across social media, there were few visuals, if any, of the attacks, because nearly all of Kabul's photojournalists and videographers had either been killed, injured or were in shock.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 23, 2014 Shah Marai (R), a close friend and colleague of slain AFP reporter Sardar Ahmad speaks during the funeral for his friend and Ahmad's family members in Kabul.
Friends and colleagues of Shah Marai have reacted with shock and grief to news of the veteran AFP photographer's death in Kabul on April 30. Marai, who leaves behind six children, was one of at least nine journalists killed in twin suicide bomb attacks that rocked the Afghan capital. 
 / AFP PHOTO / Roberto SCHMIDT

At the time of writing, the number of my colleagues killed today has reached ten. The most recent succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. Hours later, I am still making calls and leaving messages, but most of these now are to pay my respects and offer condolences to those who were close to the martyred scribes.

We now know who attacked the press community, the local faction of Islamic State has taken responsibility.

In a few days, May 3 will mark World Press Freedom day. A lot will be said and written about what we do as journalists and why it is important to a healthy progressive society. Shah Marai and the others will receive deserved accolades for their commitment to freedom of press and information. It's a commitment they paid for with their lives. Instead of being regarded as the transparent medium that they are, journalists continue to be seen as opponents and threats by various factions on all sides of the conflict here.

This will not be the end; journalists and other civilians will continue to be targeted for defying elements of society that hope to destabilise it. But even so, we will keep carrying our cameras and recorders and stepping out again to tell the world the stories that need to be told.

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Read more:

Twin ISIS suicide bomb attacks kill dozens in Kabul

Afghanistan, through the lens of Shah Marai 

Afghan Taliban announces spring offensive in another blow to peace hopes

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