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Worldwide Mourning as 10 Journalists Killed in Afghanistan’s Deadliest Day for Reporters Since 2001

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In Afghanistan, the funerals have begun for the 10 journalists killed on Monday—the deadliest day for journalists since the Afghan War began in 2001. Nine journalists died in a double suicide bombing attack in Kabul, including Agence France-Presse’s celebrated photographer Shah Marai. Survivors of the bombing said the suicide bomber was posing as a cameraman. ISIS has claimed responsibility for that attack. A 10th journalist was shot dead Monday in the eastern city of Khost. For more, we speak with Ali Latifi, a freelance journalist based in Kabul, and Phil Chetwynd, editor-in-chief at Agence France-Presse.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten journalists died in Afghanistan on Monday in the deadliest day for journalists since the Afghan War began in 2001. Nine journalists died in a double suicide bombing in Kabul. A 10th journalist was shot dead in the eastern city of Khost. The journalists in Kabul were directly targeted. They died while covering another bomb blast in the central district of the capital, which is home to NATO headquarters and a number of embassies.

After journalists rushed to the scene of the first bomb blast, a suicide bomber, dressed as a photographer, blew himself up among the journalists—the suicide bomber reportedly posing as a cameraman. A cameraman for the TV channel Zhwandoon described the scene of the twin bombings.

ALAM: [translated] I was about 10 meters away from the site of the first explosion, trying to enter the site, when the second blast happened. It was very powerful. And when I was finally at the site, I found many of my fellow reporters lying on the ground, some of them dead already.

AMY GOODMAN: ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the attack. CPJ’s Steven Butler said, quote, “This latest attack on journalists in Afghanistan is a reminder of the extreme dangers to media workers in that country and of the extremely brutal tactics used there by enemies of the free press.”

Among the victims was Agence France-Presse’s celebrated photographer Shah Marai. He has been working with AFP in Afghanistan for two decades, beginning as a driver for the agency under Taliban rule and working his way up to become AFP’s chief photographer in Kabul. He’s the father of six children, including a newborn daughter. The AFP global news director called Marai’s death “a devastating blow for the brave staff of our close-knit Kabul bureau and the entire agency.”

We’re joined now by two guests. Ali Latifi is an Afghan-born journalist based in Kabul. He covered Monday’s bombing for ThinkProgress. And in Paris, France, we’re joined by Phil Chetwynd, the global editor-in-chief for Agence France-Presse.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ali Latifi, in Kabul, I want to begin with you. Can you talk about what happened on Monday morning, yesterday morning?

ALI LATIFI: Sure. So, basically, what happened was that the first attack allegedly tried to target the Afghan intelligence agency, which is also in the neighborhood where the attack took place. And what makes us think that it was targeted against journalists is that within about 20 minutes after the initial attack, a second bomber came, claiming to have a camera with him, claiming to be a journalist, and he entered the site where the journalists were gathered, and detonated his second bomb.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what happened next.

ALI LATIFI: What happened next was basically what happens all the time—you know, people rushing to the scene, trying to get people taken care of. There would be ambulances trying to reach the scene. There would be taxis, people trying to take the dead and injured in taxis.

And then, as the hours went on, there was just shock, because no one expected journalists to be outright targeted in this sort of a way. There have been attacks on television stations in the past, both by the Taliban and groups claiming to be Daesh, or the so-called Islamic State, but there’s never been something like this where they go to the exact site and deliberately target journalists, posing as a journalist.

AMY GOODMAN: TOLOnews compiled brief bios of each of the 10 journalists killed on Monday. Yar Mohammad Tokhi was a cameraman at TOLOnews, where he had worked for 12 years. He was due to be married within the month. Shah Marai was AFP’s chief photographer in their Kabul bureau. He leaves behind six children, including his newborn daughter. Ghazi Rasooli was a journalist at 1TV and a journalism student at Kabul University, 21 years old, scheduled to get married next month. Nawroz Ali Rajabi was a cameraman with 1TV. He was the father of a 3-month-old baby. Farishta Mahram Durani was a journalist for Azadi Radio. She was a producer of the Woman program on the station. Sabawoon Kakar was a journalist for Azadi Radio. He’s survived by his wife and child. Ebadullah Hananzai was another journalist with Azadi Radio. He was the producer of the documentary The Poison Convoy, which covered issues related to drug cultivation and production in Afghanistan. Saleem Talash was a journalist with Mashal TV. He got engaged last month. Ali Saleemi had joined Mashal TV just a week ago. And then, in another city, in the eastern city of Khost, Ahmad Shah was shot dead on Monday. He worked for BBC Pashto. Ten journalists in one day.

Phil Chetwynd is editor-in-chief at Agence France-Presse. He’s based in Paris, a national holiday today. We thank you for coming in. You have lost your star photographer in Kabul. Can you talk about—talk about him, talk about Shah Marai, and what this means to you, and who he was.

PHIL CHETWYND: Well, thank you for having me, Amy.

Marai was an extraordinary man, in that, really, he started working for us as a driver under the time of the Taliban, when it was extremely dangerous to really do any journalistic work at all. And he sort of cut his teeth, really, with a hidden camera in his hand, trying to smuggle out little bits and pieces of life under the Taliban, when really there was hardly any other journalists at all in Kabul. In fact, we had to pull everybody out at one point, and Marai was the only one who really held the fort for us, until 9/11 happened and we were able to re-establish our bureau properly with everybody in it.

So, he was very, very much the heart and soul of our Kabul bureau. He was a huge character, always a smiling character, always a very engaging character, always someone who would come in and sort of lighten the stress and bring a lighter moment to the bureau, when he could see, perhaps, his younger and maybe less experienced colleagues struggling a little bit in the current environment. So, we really lost the pillar of our bureau in Kabul. And someone, for us and anyone who’s been to Kabul—I’ve been many times to Kabul, and he was someone who you would always just remember as being absolutely the heart and soul of our team there.

AMY GOODMAN: Last year, Shah Marai wrote an essay about his and his family’s life in Kabul. It was headlined “When Hope Is Gone.” In it, he wrote, “Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity. I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. … I have never felt life to have so little prospects and I don’t see a way out.” Ali Latifi, if you could talk more about him, also your friend, Shah Marai, and that feeling, as you work in Kabul, as well?

ALI LATIFI: [inaudible] about someone like Shah Marai is that—as the AFP said earlier, is that, you know, his is a common story. This is what has happened in Afghanistan. We have people who have started literally as drivers and translators and fixers and stringers, who have worked their way up to the tops of their bureaus. And they’re extremely dedicated, you know, determined to get the shot. And the one thing I always remember about the video and photo journalists at any scene like this in Kabul is, you know, you would see them hiding behind—like protecting themselves behind a wall, with their cameras up in the air, desperate to get the shot, because that’s their job, that’s their duty, and they’re very determined to get that. And so, that’s the one thing I will remember about all of these journalists. And I think that’s the one thing we should all remember about all of them.

In terms of what he said about life in Kabul, he’s 100 percent correct. My own family, my own cousin doesn’t like to take his children out on the street. My aunt, her husband recently passed away. And people said, “Why don’t you go take a course? Why don’t you go to a madrasa? Why don’t you do this?” And she said, “How can I go out on that street?” You know, she’s like, “The people aren’t the same. The security situation isn’t the same. I have no faith in what’s going to go on.” And to be quite honest, from 2016 to now, it hasn’t got much better. In fact, it’s probably gotten worse.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean to you? I mean, not just worse, we’re talking about the worst attack on journalists in one day since 2001, since the beginning, since when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

ALI LATIFI: I mean, it means that there’s no more bars anymore, right? There’s no more sort of barriers, right? If you can target journalists, then you can target anyone. And this is the thing that I found really surprising about the reaction to this, is people that I’ve known for years, people that were born and raised here, people that have been living here for years, the thing that shocked them more about this attack than anything was the fact that it was journalists. And I couldn’t believe that people had that much of a connection to us as a—you know, as a group of people and as a profession. And I think—you know, I was asking people, “Why do you think that they would target journalists?” And they said, “Basically, it says that there’s nothing left. You know, no one is safe anymore.” And that, I think, is really the scary part.

AMY GOODMAN: Phil Chetwynd, in addition to the nine journalists who were lost, including Shah Marai, your chief photographer in Kabul, you have another reporter who was just killed in Khost, who worked for BBC Pashto. What does this mean? I mean, you are the editor-in-chief at Agence France-Presse. Your organization signs people, in this very difficult situation. Can you talk about the situation in Afghanistan?

PHIL CHETWYND: Well, I think the situation in Afghanistan has been something that has been troubling us for a very long time. Really, over the last 10 years, as the situation has become worse and worse, and the Taliban attacks have become wider, and now we’ve seen the competition between the Taliban and Islamic State almost—the Islamic State group almost, you know, to out-horror each other, the way we work and how to try to work safely has been something that has been weighing on us extremely heavily. We move our bureau several times. We change our procedures. We put in extra guidelines. We don’t go to certain places. We’re constantly looking and evolving and trying to work out how on Earth we can do our jobs in this kind of environment.

But, of course, this latest attack really, you know, really changes the game. As Ali has just said, to actually be in a situation where the journalists are actually lured into a trap and killed in this way, nine or 10 in a single group, is really very shocking and, I think, poses lots of questions about how we can try to report at all or safely in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Phil Chetwynd, in 2014, your news agency, Agence France-Presse, lost journalist Sardar Ahmad, who was shot and killed along with his wife and two of his three children in a Taliban attack on an Afghan hotel. That was just three years ago. So, you talk about how you do operate. So, what will you do now? What will AFP do now, without Shah Marai?

PHIL CHETWYND: Well, I think we have to, firstly, really understand fully the circumstances behind what happened and so on. Obviously, when you get an immediate attack like this, there are the first—you know, first feelings as to what happened, the first reports and so on. But there is a need, really, to get to the bottom of exactly what happened, before we can take any sort of radical decisions.

But at the same time, it is our job to report around the world. We report on extremely dangerous things all around the world, and we find a way to do it. We’ve certainly done this in Syria for the last five years, which has been an extremely dangerous place to work. In the end, we ended up creating a little network of our own local journalist sources and so on around Syria, on the ground, because, after about 2013, it just became too dangerous for us to put our own people in, after various kidnappings and murders and so on. So, the Syrian situation is perhaps an example where, when we were blocked one way from doing things, we are there to report the story. We are there. It’s absolutely vital that the story of Afghanistan continues to be told. It’s vital that the story of Syria continues to be told. And therefore we have to find an asymmetrical or different way to tell the story, if that is what is necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Latifi, you’re in Kabul. You’re a freelance journalist there. You face extreme danger all the time, as other journalists, as other civilians do. You’ve reported a lot on the thousands of Afghan refugees being deported from Turkey and the European Union because Afghanistan is, quote, “safe now.” Can you talk about what’s happening?

ALI LATIFI: So, basically, yeah, this is exactly the problem. I was actually on a flight back from Dubai about a couple weeks ago. And when we were leaving the airplane, I heard the stewardess say, “Oh, no deportees on this flight.” And I thought that was really interesting, because it’s: Who are you deporting from Dubai? But the truth is that this is exactly the problem. You know, I’ve been to Turkey, I’ve been to Greece, since 2013, covering the situation. And what we see is that, you know, these European Union governments, the Turkish government, in accordance with agreements with the Kabul government, are saying things like, “Oh, well, there are safe areas in Afghanistan.” And the most common safe area that they claim is Kabul.

Well, within one week, there have been two suicide bombings—or three, actually—targeting civilians specifically, whether they be journalists or, you know, civilians as in like women, children and men from the area. And so, this is a major issue that no one is addressing, the fact that, you know, there are hundreds and hundreds of—a lot of young men being deported back from the European Union, from Turkey, and who basically are coming back to an area where, at any moment, you know, as Shah Marai’s journal said, and as other people have been saying, you really don’t know, when you step out of the house—you know, if you go one direction, there could be a bombing; if you go another direction, there could be a bombing. That area where the bombing took place on Monday, I was—I go there. I go there to go to the Afghan Film Directorate. So, you know, had I gone one day later, I could have been there.

AMY GOODMAN: Phil Chetwynd, as you report from Paris, based in Paris—you’re editor-in-chief of AFP—can you talk about the effect of President Trump’s comments about the press, calling it the enemy of the people?

PHIL CHETWYND: Well, I think the interesting thing is it’s not just President Trump. You’re really having a wave of this kind of language coming from many countries around the world—the Philippines, Hungary, Slovenia. There’s a sort of wave of attempts to decredibilize the work of working journalists around the world. And that’s extremely concerning, because when you have an event such as we’ve just witnessed in Afghanistan, it should be an international scandal. We cannot allow for impunity against journalists and for such a grievous attack against people doing their job, people who are ultimately one of the pillars of a free society.

So, there’s a general discourse around the world coming from certain countries and leaders, which is certainly eroding confidence and also trust in the work of very brave people on the front lines. And this latest incident in Kabul is just an example of the kind of risks people are taking all around the world—journalists working for many, many, many organizations—to tell real stories, not to be involved in a game of fake news or involved in a game of misinformation, disinformation and so on. There are people risking their lives every day to tell the stories that need to be told. And this attack really brings it home that it’s beyond rhetoric, that the reality is what we saw in Kabul. And so, I think this whole thing that we’ve seen around the world in terms of this use of language, very negative language, towards journalists is an extremely negative thing, and it’s having a very poor impact on our business.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ali Latifi, let me put that question to you, on the ground in Kabul. You both live in Afghanistan and were born there. You’ve also lived in the United States. What it means to you that President Trump has called you, journalists—I mean, not you specifically, but journalists—the enemy of the people?

ALI LATIFI: I think it’s dangerous. You know, I’ve also lived in Turkey, where there’s a major issue with the free press. And I think it sort of creates this image of—I think that might have been why I was so surprised at how people reacted to the deaths of journalists here, because I’ve become so used to people saying, “Oh, fake news,” or “the failing New York Times” or whatever. And you see that, you know, it really has a value. You know, when you live in an informed population, news has a real value.

But the one thing I wanted to address was the issue of impunity, right? So, if we’re talking about impunity for the Taliban and the so-called Daesh or so-called Islamic State forces, it’s very hard to hold them accountable, obviously. But the other issue, in terms of impunity, is sort of the case in Khost and, a week before, in the southern province of Kandahar, where journalists are being killed by armed men, and no one is finding out what happened to them, who killed them, and there’s no real justice for that.

And we also have issues, you know, in terms of, again saying, how the press is treated. We also have a lot of issues with the police and with the military and with MPs and with warlords and with government-allied militias, that have, you know—and with the intelligence agency, that have taken journalists, put bags on their head, taken them in the back of a car and thrown them in a basement, asking them what they were doing. And this is another major issue. The Kabul government, you know, there’s no way they can hold—like let’s be realistic: They can’t hold these Daesh forces or the Taliban accountable, but they can hold their own security agencies and their own politicians accountable for how they treat journalists and for really, you know, sort of embracing that and learning that violence and intimidation, you know, it’s not going to work, and it’s not going to help, and we’re not the enemy. We’re not there to take anyone down or to destroy anyone.

And, of course, this recent attack, that creates a problem for us, because, again, you know, when people see a camera—and in a way, rightfully—they’ll be suspicious: What’s in that camera? Right? Because, for me, like I’m a print journalist. A lot of times, when I go to these kinds of things, the first thing they say to me is, “Where is your camera?” That gives you credibility. That’s an instant sort of marker that makes you recognized as a journalist. And now even that could be taken away from us. So I think it’s very important that the issue of impunity is addressed all around.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Phil Chetwynd, editor-in-chief at Agence France-Presse, I wanted to switch gears for a moment, because in the next days President Trump will be deciding about whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. The president of France, where you are, President Emmanuel Macron, just made a state visit to the United States to convince Trump not to pull out. But when he left, he said it looks like Trump will be pulling out.

Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, just gave a major address with echoes of what General Powell did as secretary of state in 2003 at the U.N., saying, “The evidence is in: There’s weapons of mass destruction”—a speech that Powell would call a blot on his career later. And that’s exactly what Netanyahu, in this speech that he gave, in English, to the world, with big signs that said things like “He lied,” saying there’s—evidence is now in that Iran has lied. Your thoughts on what this means for President Trump, if, in fact, what Macron says is true?

PHIL CHETWYND: Well, I think it has been something that has been signaled for a while from the White House, that there could be this—there could be this change of thinking on the Iran nuclear deal. The president has made it very clear from the beginning that he was not a fan, and there seemed to be a general belief, though, there are several key advisers around Trump, notably former National Security Adviser McMaster, who were holding the deal in check.

I think we’d very much be into uncharted territory if we’re to pull out of this, because it’s clear also that the Europeans are still very, very much behind it, as President Macron’s visit to the United States showed. But I think this is something that we’ve been expecting. And I think what President Macron said as he left probably indicated the fact that this is not going to be a surprise.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Phil Chetwynd, editor-in-chief at Agence France-Presse, speaking to us from Paris, France, and Ali Latifi, freelance journalist based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Ali, stay safe.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll speak to Bryan Stevenson, the founder of Equal Justice Initiative, the group behind the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. A new monument to victims of white supremacy, slavery and lynchings has just opened in Montgomery, Alabama.

BRYAN STEVENSON: We want to build this museum, from enslavement to mass incarceration. We want people to understand there is this line from slavery to the racial bias and discrimination that we see today that needs to be understood. We want people to come through our museum and walk out with an opportunity to do something. We hope they’ll be prepared to say something that sounds like “Never again should we tolerate racial bias and injustice in our country.”

AMY GOODMAN: Bryan Stevenson, live with us in Montgomery, Alabama, in a minute.

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