Suspects arrested in journalists’ murders

New York, April 22, 2003—Afghan officials announced yesterday that they have arrested five men suspected of involvement in the murder of four journalists killed in an ambush in southeastern Afghanistan on November 19, 2001.

Azizullah Haidari, an Afghan photographer for the Reuters news agency; Harry Burton, an Australian cameraman for Reuters; Julio Fuentes, a Spanish correspondent for the Madrid-based newspaper El Mundo; and Maria Grazia Cutuli, an Italian correspondent for the Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera, were traveling at the head of a convoy en route to the capital, Kabul, when a group of gunmen stopped them near the town of Sarobi, some 55 miles (90 kilometers) east of the capital. Gunmen dragged the four journalists out of two of the front cars and executed them using Kalashnikov rifles, according to a driver and translator who were allowed to flee and later spoke to reporters.

Amrullah Salahi, a senior official at Afghanistan’s National Intelligence Agency, told Reuters yesterday that one of the suspects had been detained months ago, leading to the arrest of the others. “Because of security issues involved, we could not reveal the arrest of the first person,” Salahi told Reuters. The official added that the suspects “have confessed to having carried out the killings.”

According to Agence France-Presse, the Afghan state news agency Bakhtar identified the men arrested as Mamur, Ajab Khan, Hamayon (also known as “Kakol”), and Marjan Janan—all residents of Sarobi—and a man called called Muslim, from Jalalabad. The Government-controlled Radio Kabul identified the gunmen as supporters of the former Taliban regime and of the terrorist network al-Qaeda.

The journalists were killed just one week after the Taliban lost control of Kabul, when security conditions in Afghanistan were particularly chaotic. Armed bandits, Taliban militia, and other fighters were still active throughout the country at the time.

In 2001, eight journalists were killed while reporting in Afghanistan—all within a two-week period in November. Security problems in Afghanistan remain acute, but no journalist has been killed there during the last year.