Afghan journalist killed in insurgent attack

New York, July 28, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists mourns the death of Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak, a BBC and Pajhwok Afghan News reporter, in violence between insurgents and security forces in central Afghanistan today.

Khpalwak, 25, was among at least 22 killed when gunmen and suicide bombers targeted the governor’s office and police headquarters in Tarin Kot, capital of Uruzgan province, according to local and international news reports. The BBC reported that Khpalwak was in a local radio and television bureau when it came under attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assaults, which involved about seven explosions and a subsequent gun battle with Afghan and NATO security forces, according to news reports.

The circumstances surrounding Khpalwak’s death were unclear in news reports. A Taliban spokesman called The Associated Press to say they were targeting police, not the journalist.  

Danish Karokhel, the director of Pajhwok, told CPJ by telephone from Kabul that the gunmen stormed the Uruzgan television and radio station in order to fire on the nearby government buildings. According to Karokhel, Khpalwak was in the station to report on the initial explosions and was killed by a spray of bullets. No other journalists were reported injured, although the building did sustain damage, he said. 

“We are alarmed that a television station came under attack, which resulted in the death of Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Local journalists reporting from the frontlines face terrible risks in Afghanistan.”

Pajhwok reported that Khpalwak’s body was taken to the local hospital where it was recovered by his brother. At least 37 people were injured in the fighting, which lasted several hours, the report said.

Local journalists bear the brunt of Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation, according to CPJ research. The country placed sixth on CPJ’s 2011 Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to investigate.