Afghans respond with outrage at ISIS attack on RTA building in Jalalabad
JALALABAD -- Suicide bombers stormed the national television station in Afghanistan's Jalalabad city on Wednesday (May 17), killing six people as gunfights and explosions rocked the building with journalists trapped inside, officials and eyewitnesses said.
At least 17 others were left wounded in the four-hour assault on Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA), which marks the latest in a string of attacks on media workers in the conflict-torn country.
"Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) militants claimed responsibility for the attack in Nangarhar Province.
"There were four attackers -- one blew himself up at the gate, killing the guard. Three others entered the building but were killed after our security forces fought them for four hours," Nangarhar Governor Gulab Mangal told reporters.
"Six people, including four civilians and two policemen, were killed and 17 others wounded," he added. A health worker told AFP that many of those brought to hospital suffered gunshot wounds.
An RTA photographer said he fled the building as soon as the gunfight erupted, but many of his colleagues were trapped inside until troops killed all the militants.
Local observers reacted with outrage to the latest terrorist attack in a country that has seen numerous slayings of journalists.
"The AIHRC [Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission] strongly condemns the attack on a civilian site," AIHRC spokeswoman Bilal Sediqi told Salaam Times. "We ask the government to punish the perpetrators of such acts."
"Attacks on media violate all decent values," Fahim Dashti, president of the Afghanistan National Journalists Union, told Salaam Times. "We're working with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to secure the media."
"It's not the first time that terrorists have targeted Afghan journalists," Khairullah, a Kabul journalist, told Salaam Times. "They are opposed to all humanity."
Battling ISIS in Nangarhar
ISIS insurgents are active in Nangarhar Province, of which Jalalabad is the capital.
The US military last month dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb on ISIS positions in Nangarhar, killing up to 90 militants according to Afghan government officials, who ruled out any civilian casualties in the bombing.
According to US Forces-Afghanistan, defections and recent battlefield losses have reduced the local ISIS presence from a peak of as many as 3,000 fighters to a maximum of 800.
Deadly country for media
Wednesday's attack marks the latest militant assault on an Afghan media organisation.
Afghanistan suffered its deadliest year on record for journalists in 2016, according to the Afghan Journalists' Safety Committee (AJSC), adding that the country is the second most dangerous for reporters in the world after Syria.
As least 13 journalists were killed last year in Afghanistan, AJSC said, claiming that the Taliban were behind at least ten of the deaths.
In January last year, seven employees of popular TV channel TOLO, which is often critical of insurgents, were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul.
It was the first major attack on an Afghan media organisation since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.
[Najibullah from Kabul contributed to this report.]