On the day of his death, Siddiqui, 38, was embedded with the special forces of the pre-Taliban Afghan government while covering their clashes with the Taliban, according to that Reuters report. Shortly before his death, Siddiqui took shelter in a local mosque where he was treated for a shrapnel injury he sustained while covering the clashes, according to that report, citing Major-General Haibatullah Alizai, the commander of the Afghan Special Operations Corps at the time of Siddiqui’s death.
Initial reports said that Siddiqui was talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban launched a new attack, and he was killed in a subsequent crossfire.
However, Alizai later told Reuters that the journalist was killed after his soldiers withdrew from Spin Boldak and mistakenly left Siddiqui and the two commandos who were accompanying him behind on the belief that they had joined the retreating envoy. Four members of the Special Forces confirmed Alizai’s account to Reuters.
Siddiqui and the two commandos accompanying him were shot as they tried to run to the retreating vehicles, a Special Forces driver told the news agency.
Alizai told Reuters that when one of his officers later called the phone of one of the commandos who was accompanying Siddiqui, it was answered by someone identifying himself as a Taliban fighter, who said, “You’re bringing Indians to fight against us,” to which the officer replied, “Don’t shoot him. He’s a journalist,” but the fighter answered, “We already killed that guy.”
A British ballistic expert consulted by Reuters found that Siddiqui was shot multiple additional times after he was killed. Security officials with the former Afghan government and Indian government officials told Reuters that based on photos, intelligence, and an examination of Siddiqui’s body, his body was mutilated while in Taliban custody after his death.
Shortly following Siddiqui’s death, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that the militant group had not been aware there was a journalist on the scene, and said it was unclear how Siddiqui was killed. Mujahid said that Siddiqui’s injuries occurred prior to the Taliban’s discovery of the body, and denied reports that Siddiqui was captured and executed and that his body was desecrated following his death.
Siddiqui, a father of two children, was a member of the Reuters photography team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for “shocking photographs that exposed the world to violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar.” He was awarded a second Pulitzer posthumously in 2022 for his photo coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, who was among those named in the ICC complaint, did not reply to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app in August 2023.
Qari Mohammad Yousuf Ahmadi, the interim director of the Taliban-controlled Government Media and Information Center, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.