A suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday targeted a bus carrying employees of the MOBY Group which owns TOLOnews, one of Afghanistan’s most popular private news outlets. The employees killed worked in video editing, dubbing, graphics and decoration, and also included a driver. Early reports said a man on motorbike rammed the bus, but authorities later said it was a car packed with explosives. Twenty-six other civilians were injured in the blast, which took place near the Russian Embassy.
The attack was eventually claimed by the Taliban, which said in a statement, as reported by Al Jazeera, that “Kabul resident Faridullah conducted the attack… The vehicle [a minibus that was targeted] has been under our surveillance for a long time.”
In October 2015, the Taliban issued death threats against journalists in Afghanistan after negative coverage of the events in Kunduz. As reported by the New York Times in October, the director of TOLOnews, Lotfullah Najafizada, said the Taliban’s statement–labeling reporters “enemy personnel”– “was the first of its kind in the past 14 or 15 years, and it took us by surprise.”
Najafizada said at the time that the Taliban had previously tried to disassociate itself from attacks on journalists. Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 27 journalists have been killed since 1992 (Afghanistan ranks 12th). Reporters Without Borders, in a release about the recent attack, said “Jihadists are among press freedom’s worst predators.”
In remarks released by the Taliban on Thursday, the group attempted to clarify the intention of its attack:
The Islamic Emirate wants to clarify that the attack on Tolo was not an attack on the media but on an intelligence network opposing our national unity and our religious and national values. We want to reassure all impartial media outlets. They must not unintentionally compare themselves with Tolo and should withhold from making unwarranted assertions because they cannot harm us.
To say the least, it’s an absurdist argument steeped in paranoia. If by “impartial media outlets” the Taliban mean outlets which are not critical of attacks on civilians–such as those riding the bus home from work–there aren’t many around. TOLOnews was Afghanistan’s first 24/7 news channel.
But it’s not just news the Taliban are targeting but foreign influence and perceived obscenity. Under the Taliban regime in the 1990s, music and television were banned. Tolo TV, another MOBY channel is wildly popular and broadcasts, among other commercial programming, Afghan Star.
According to the BBC, in announcing what had happened during a live broadcast, Fawad Aman, a news presenter for TOLOnews, said “The enemy of humanity, peace and Islam martyred our colleagues because they were exposing their crimes… They martyred you to silence us, but they will never achieve this evil goal.”