Several Killed In Suicide Attack On TV Employees In Kabul

By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

January 20, 2016

At least seven people have been killed in Kabul after a suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying employees of the prominent Afghan news network Tolo TV.

The bombing, the first major attack on a media organization in Afghanistan, came just months after the Taliban declared Tolo TV -- which includes a number of television, online, and radio outlets -- a legitimate "military target." No group has claimed responsibility.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that at least 25 people were injured in the bombing, which comes amid a wave of violence and an international push to revive peace talks with the Taliban.

Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi, speaking to journalists at the scene, said "a suicide bomber driving a [Toyota] Corolla car attacked a vehicle owned by Kaboora Production in this area.

Kaboora Production is affiliated with Tolo TV, which condemned the attack in an official statement. Tolo News, another affiliate, reported that the vehicle was carrying 30 Kaboora Production staff members.

Khapalwak Safi, deputy managing editor at Tolo News, told RFE/RL that a "number of Tolo staff have been killed and wounded," without offering any other details.

"The enemy of peace and Afghan people have martyred my colleagues," Fawad Aman, a well-known Tolo News anchor, wrote on his Facebook page. "Such cowardly attacks will not deter us from exposing the truth."

The bombing took place near the Russian Embassy in west Kabul, and the building suffered minor damage. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, however, that no Russian staffers were injured. The ministry said security measures would be increased.

In October, the Taliban issued a statement labeling the privately run Tolo News a "propaganda network."

Tolo News is a popular, outspoken independent television station that is often critical of the Taliban. The news channel is part of the larger Tolo TV network, which was launched in 2004 amid international efforts to develop free media in Afghanistan.

The Taliban explained that its move was in direct response to commercial networks' coverage of the situation in Kunduz Province; specifically, their reports of Taliban fighters allegedly raping women at a female hostel in the northern city of Kunduz, which the militants seized on September 28. The Taliban denied the reports.

The January 20 bombing comes as a blow to Afghanistan's media development, which is often cited as one of the biggest achievements of the past decade.

Under Taliban rule, all forms of music and television were banned, including independently reported news.

Under the Taliban regime there was only state-owned radio, the Taliban's Voice of Shari'a, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.

Afghanistan is ranked as low as 122 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index, a gauge of media freedom compiled by the group Reporters Without Borders.

The attack on Tolo News staff is the latest in a spate of suicide attacks in the Afghan capital.

Since the start of the new year, Kabul has been hit by at least six bomb attacks.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters