Kathy Gannon, Canadian reporter, wounded and photographer killed in Afghanistan

An Associated Press photographer was killed and a Canadian reporter was wounded in eastern Afghanistan after a police officer opened fire on the women while they were sitting in their car with two other people a day before the start of the national election.

Anja Niedringhaus killed instantly, Canadian wounded in eastern region a day before elections start

Journalists shot in Afghanistan

10 years ago
Duration 4:53
Award-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus was shot and killed in Afghanistan, and Canadian reporter Kathy Gannon suffered gunshot wounds but is recovering

An Associated Press photographer from Germany was killed and a Canadian reporter was wounded in eastern Afghanistan after a police officer opened fire on the women while they were sitting in a car a day before the start of the national election.

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, internationally acclaimed for her photography, died instantly, according to an AP Television freelancer who witnessed the shooting. 

Kathy Gannon, 60, was shot three times in the arm and shoulder and is receiving medical attention. She was described as being in stable condition and talking to medical personnel.

Gannon has reportedly been transferred from a hospital in the city of Khost, where the shooting occurred, to an advanced medical centre at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, according to Naeem Pasha, Gannon's husand. 

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, died after being shot by a police officer in eastern Afghanistan. (Anja Niedringhaus/Twitter)

Niedringhaus will be taken to Germany in the coming days for burial, says Pasha. 

Gannon and Niedringhaus had been working together in Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly five years, including several embeds with the Afghan National Army and Pakistani security forces. Both journalists had spent 20-plus years covering the region.

"Kathy has been working in this area for almost 25 years now. It's like she knows everybody in Afghanistan, and if you asked her, she could rattle off names from one end of the country to the other," Pasha told CBC News in an interview from his home in Islamabad on Friday morning. 

Gannon is a former Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the author of a book on the country, I Is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years Inside Afghanistan

An inside attack

Niedringhaus covered conflict zones including Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Gaza and the West Bank during a 20-year stretch, beginning with the Balkans in the 1990s. She had travelled to Afghanistan numerous times since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, and received numerous awards for her work.

The two journalists were travelling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots from the centre of Khost to the outskirts, in Tani district. The convoy was protected by the Afghan army and Afghan police. Niedringhaus and Gannon were in their own car with a freelancer and a driver.

According to Pasha, the two had gone to shoot footage of the ballots for potential pieces on the upcoming nationwide elections. When it began to rain heavily, they decided to wait in their car to protect the camera equipment.

As they were in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up, yelled "Allahu Akbar" — God is great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47. He then surrendered to other police and was arrested.

Medical officials in Khost confirmed that Niedringhaus had died.

Pasha said the shooter did not fire into the front of the vehicle — only into the back seats where Gannon and Niedringhaus were sitting. 

"Whether it was because they are foreigners, or because they were journalists, I can't be sure ... but I know I feel very sad for Anja's life," he said.

According to freelance journalist Kate Clark, who had worked with both Gannon and Niedringhaus and knows them personally, a potential motive for the shooting was revenge for a U.S. airstrike that killed some of the gunman's family in Panwar province, northwest of Kabul.

The claim could not be verified and officials say they are investigating the shooter's background. 

Canadian journalist Kathy Gannon has covered the Afghan-Pakistan region for more than 25 years and served a stint as Associated Press bureau chief in Kabul. She was in stable condition after being shot twice in her arm in eastern Afghanistan on Friday while covering the national elections that begin Saturday. (The Associated Press)

"Obviously, it is ironic because both of these reporters are humanitarians. They've done lots of work to uncover atrocities committed by all sides in this conflict," Clark told CBC News on Friday morning. 

Pasha said Gannon is conscious and in stable condition, but is in shock. 

John Danizewski, an Associated Press senior managing editor, says Gannon successfully received surgery and that her wounds have been closed, but she also has some broken bones. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed deep sadness over the death of Niedringhaus and the wounding of Gannon. 

"These two AP journalists had gone to Khost province to prepare reports about the presidential and provincial council elections," a statement from Karzai's office quoted him as saying. It added that Karzai instructed the interior minister and the Khost governor to assist the AP in every way possible.

Shooting follows brazen murders

News of Friday's shooting comes on the heels of two other high-profile, brazen daylight murders of foreign journalists in Kabul. 

The lone gunman specifically targeted Gannon and Niedringhaus, who were sitting in the back of this vehicle waiting out a downpour. There are reports that personal revenge for a U.S. air strike was the possible motive for the attack. (Reuters)
​Serena Hotel, a popular spot for foreigners in Kabul, on March 21. A week earlier, Swedish journalist Nils Horner was executed in broad daylight outside an oft-frequented café.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the national election starting Saturday, previously attacking an elections office in Kabul and a guesthouse used by foreigners in the capital. 

Pasha said Gannon had expressed fears about the stability of the country in recent weeks. 

"She would get really teary-eyed and emotional about what is happening in the country. This was the first time she sounded more worried than anything else," he said of a phone conservation the two had just days ago. 

With files from The Associated Press