Slain journalists 'were killed by bin Laden's men'

War on Terrorism: Killed journalists
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The Independent Online

Four foreign journalists murdered in eastern Afghanistan two days ago were probably the victims of Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network, an anti-Taliban commander said yesterday.

Hazrat Ali, the newly appointed head of law and order in nearby Jalalabad, said al-Qa'ida fighters had been seen in the mountains close to the spot where the three men and one woman were pulled out of their cars and shot dead on Monday.

The bodies of the journalists ­ an Italian woman, a Spanish man, and an Australian man and an Afghan photographer who both worked for Reuters ­ will be driven over the border into Pakistan this morning by the Red Cross. They were taken to Jalalabad yesterday.

Their injuries confirmed what witnesses described on Monday. They were shot with automatic rifles at close range, after being dragged out of their cars and struck with stones and rifle butts.

"Some of them had been hit by five bullets, some by 10," said Mohammed Khalil, an ambulance driver who recovered the bodies from Dabali Uba, about 60 miles along the mountainous road from Jalalabad to the Afghan capital, Kabul. At least one of the men appeared to have been shot in the back as he tried to run away.

Paying tribute to his colleagues, the editor-in-chief of Reuters, Geert Linnebank, said: "That their deaths are cruel, senseless, a terrible waste, goes without saying, but their deaths also make us angry, outraged at what appear to be yet more cold-blooded executions of journalists going about their work.

"We owe it to them, to all the other colleagues who have lost their lives covering conflict, and also the hundreds of reporters who are at risk in the front line every day, to uphold their legacy."

The bodies lay in the open for 24 hours before being recovered by a convoy of ambulances escorted by Commander Ali's militiamen.

Initially, local leaders in Jalalabad believed the killers were bandits who had robbed Afghan travellers along the same road on Monday.

The dead journalists' drivers, who escaped after pleading for their lives, said the ambushers spoke the local language of the Pashtun tribesmen. But yesterday Commander Ali said he suspected al-Qa'ida members, referred to locally as "the Arabs".

He said: "There are still some Arabs who have been seen in those mountains. Our local commanders in the area believe that it was them who killed the journalists. There are too many of these strangers in Afghanistan."