Guess what? The responsibility for the explosion which shook the Tibian cultural centre, Mazar-i-Sharif, in Balkh province on March 11 has been claimed by the Islamic State through the extremist group’s Telegram account. The blast during an event for journalists in northern Afghanistan killed at least one person and wounded eight, according to authorities and journalists.
- The attack against journalists was caused by a “parcel bomb that IS fighters managed to place and detonate” at the event held at a cultural center in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, IS said in a statement.
- “The blast targeted a rally held inside a Shiite center to reward several journalists working in agencies involved in the war and instigation against IS,” the statement said.
- A security guard was killed, while five journalists and three children were wounded in the bomb attack, as per the Taliban police officials. However, sources put this number at three dead and over 30 wounded. At least 15 journalists are among the injured.
Between the lines: However, note that despite the ISIS claiming responsibility, the Taliban are hounding the victims of the blast. Nai said that the Taliban have questioned journalists who were injured in during the blast and confiscated their belongings.
- In a statement, Nai called the Taliban’s move against human rights values and said that the situation was a form of “double pressure” on journalists. “Security agencies should know that inquiry is an act that is applicable in the laws of the country, based on special circumstances,” Nai’s statement said. Journalists should not be suspected and questioned when they are victims.
- Noting that the Tibian centre was also the target of a deadly attack in 2018 in which a number of journalists were killed, Nai also questioned officials at the cultural center if ” they have taken security measures in coordination with relevant entities”.
- Journalists affected by the questioning of the Taliban stated that even after 20 hours since the blast, they have not yet been able to get their work equipment. Sources said that their equipment lies at the Taliban’s intelligence directorate.
Why it matters? The incident came a few days after the province’s governor died in an explosion also claimed by Islamic State.
- The governor of Balkh, Mohammad Dawood Muzammil, was killed Thursday by a suicide bomber at his office in Mazar-i-Sharif.
- The killing of Muzammil, known for fighting IS jihadis, marked one of the highest-level attacks since the Taliban stormed back to power in 2021.
- IS attacks in Afghanistan have often targeted the minority Shiite and Sufi communities, as well as foreigners and foreign interests.
- Also, since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021, the group has imposed some tough restrictions on media and journalists. According to the decrees, no private or public media outlet or news channel is allowed to criticize Taliban members or speak against Afghanistan’s de facto regime.
Meanwhile, in a related development showcasing Taliban’s callous attitude towards journalists. Sher Shah Rasooli, a journalist, said that more than 10 men armed with US weapons stormed his house in Jabal Sarraj district of Parwan province at night and severely beat up his old and sick father.
- Rasooli claimed this action had been “impossible without the approval of the local Taliban officials”.
- The journalist stressed that in addition to the violence, they took their phones and some other home supplies with them. Taliban officials have not yet commented on the physical assault of the journalist’s father.
Zoom out: The response to the blast specifically targeting journalists has evoked criticism from inside the country as well global stakeholders.
- The Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned the attack and said that the attack on journalists was an “unacceptable incident” and that violence must stop. UNAMA also wrote that Afghan journalists show “tremendous courage” and must be protected.
- Nai called the attack “shocking” and said that the incident caused deep concern for the journalism community.
- The US Special Representative on Sunday condemned the attack and called it a “senseless act of violence”. In a tweet expressing deep regret, Tom West called the explosion at the journalists’ rally a “terrorist attack”.
- United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett said that the attack on journalists is a blow to the freedom of expression.
- Bennett said he is closely monitoring the attack and emphasized on the need for increased security measures for journalists in Afghanistan.
- Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani and Raffaella Iodice, a staffer at the European Union office in Kabul, strongly condemned the attack. Iodice added that journalists risk their lives for their duty and must be protected. The EU office worker in Kabul has stressed that journalists should not be targeted.
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded the Taliban quickly investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. “Targeting journalists during an event to honour reporters is a despicable and cowardly act. Brave Afghan journalists are already reporting in extremely challenging circumstances.,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.