New York, November 12, 2001—CPJ is deeply saddened by the deaths of three colleagues killed while reporting in northern Afghanistan.
Johanne Sutton, a reporter for Radio France Internationale; Pierre Billaud, a reporter for Radio Television Luxembourg; and Volker Handloik, a free-lance reporter on assignment for the German news magazine Stern, were killed on the evening of November 11 when Taliban forces fired on their Northern Alliance military convoy.
“All of us here at CPJ send our heartfelt condolences to the families and colleagues of these three brave journalists,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Reporters working on the front lines of this conflict are doing critically important work at great personal risk.”
The reporters were among a group of six journalists who were riding with Northern Alliance soldiers in an armored personnel carrier (APC). The soldiers were advancing toward Taliban positions near the city of Taloqan, the capital of Takhar Province and the alliance’s former headquarters. The Northern Alliance later claimed it had recaptured the city.
Taliban forces opened fire on the convoy and hit the APC carrying the journalists with a rocket-propelled grenade. The jolt from the grenade’s impact caused some people to fall off the tank, while others may have jumped off. Three journalists survived the attack: Paul McGeough, a reporter for the Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald; Véronique Rebeyrotte, a reporter for France Culture radio; and Levon Sevunts, a reporter for the Montreal Gazette.
CPJ continues to investigate competing claims about how the journalists were killed. A Northern Alliance general told CNN that the bodies of Billaud and Handloik were found in a Taliban trench and suggested that the two had been “assassinated.” However, McGeough told CNN he does not believe the journalists were targeted.
CPJ is also investigating reports that an Afghan translator traveling with the group is missing.
Sutton, Billaud, and Handloik are the first known press casualties in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led military campaign began on October 7. Since 1987, at least 10 other journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, according to CPJ records.