Two gunmen killed Aatif, a reporter for the Pashto-language service of the U.S. government-funded Voice of America, at a mosque in Shabqadar, north of Peshawar. The assailants, who struck during evening prayers, shot Aatif multiple times before fleeing on motorcycles, police told reporters. Aatif died of his injuries at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. An imam was injured in the attack.
Taliban spokesmen spoke to several news outlets, taking responsibility for the killing. Ihsanullah Ihsan told The Associated Press that Aatif had been warned "a number of times to stop anti-Taliban reporting, but he didn't do so. He finally met his fate."
Several CPJ sources said they were skeptical Aatif had been killed on the orders of the Taliban or for the publicly stated reasons. Aatif told friends and relatives that he started receiving threats from military and intelligence officials immediately after covering a November 2011 attack by U.S.-led NATO forces on Pakistani army check posts at Salala, near the border with Afghanistan. Twenty-four Pakistani soldiers died in the attack. Aatif filed reports on the attack for Deewa Radio and took part in what are called two-ways, which are live exchanges with the station's studio journalists.
Aatif had spoken to local residents who said a Taliban hideout was just two kilometers from the army check posts, a tribal area journalist told CPJ. The Taliban's proximity to the army posts was highly sensitive information because it could have provided justification for the American attack. An official with the U.S. National Security Council told CPJ that a Special Forces team launched the attack after taking fire from the area of the Pakistani check posts.
Deewa Radio said Aatif's reports explained the geography of the area but did not mention the Taliban. Deewa did not respond to CPJ's repeated queries seeking information on what was said by the station's studio journalists during their live two-way exchanges with Aatif. Deewa said no archive of Aatif's reports was available. Multiple CPJ sources in Pakistan and the United States said the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate was believed to be behind the murder. A Pakistani security official said the speculation was unsubstantiated.