As It Happens

Toronto man mourns 'brave' sister, among 3 killed on way home from Afghan TV station

Shahnaz Raufi Mohmand bravely pursued a career in Afghanistan's media despite the tremendous risks, her brother said. And for that, she paid the ultimate price.  

3 employees of Enikass TV in Jalalabad were shot and killed on their way home from work Tuesday

Shahnaz Raufi Mohmand, 20, shown here with an Instagram filter, was one of three women killed Tuesday on their way home from work at Enikass TV in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (Submitted by Haroon Rahimi)

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Shahnaz Raufi Mohmand bravely pursued a career in Afghanistan's media despite the tremendous risks, her brother said. And for that, she paid the ultimate price.  

The 20-year-old was one of three female media workers shot and killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday — the latest in a series of killings targeting journalists, activists, lawyers and judges.

"It's really shocking news," Haroon Rahimi, Mohmand's brother who lives in Toronto, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"But I am slowly, slowly adopting the reality that the incident has happened."

Mohmand was heading home from work at Enikass TV in Jalalabad with her colleague Sadia Sadat, 20, on Tuesday when they were both killed by gunmen in a rickshaw following theirs.

At around the same time, their co-worker Mursal Wahidi, 20, was also walking home from the station when a gunman shot her point blank in the head and chest. She died instantly.

Wahidi's father told The Associated Press he begged her to quit after one of her colleagues was killed last year, but she refused. 

"Journalism was her life's dream," Wahidullah Khogyani said. "She studied and was living her dream."

All three women were laid to rest on Wednesday.

Taliban member arrested, but ISIS takes credit 

Afghan officials claimed they arrested the killer, identifying him as Qari Baser and insisting he was a Taliban member. However, police did not explain how the man could have carried out two near-simultaneous attacks so far apart.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the group had any role.

Hours after the killings, ISIS claimed it carried out the attacks because the women worked for one of the "media stations loyal to the apostate Afghan government."

Rahimi said he doesn't trust the "false news" from the government, which he says shares the blame for his sister's death.

"I firmly believe that the killer is a terrorist, of course, with such a mindset," Rahimi said. "But I also blame the government for not providing security for the journalists and the media people."

Relatives carry the body of one of three women working for a local radio and TV station who were killed on Tuesday. (The Associated Press)

Latif Mahmood, the director of the government media and information centre, said the government is working to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers and insisted officials provide accurate information.

"Our investigations show that armed opponents of the government are behind the target killings," he said. "We have identified them. Suspects are arrested, and they have confessed. Their base and aim are totally clear."

'Smart, caring, brave person'

Rahimi says he first saw the news of the killings online, but he didn't piece together his sister was one of the victims. 

"I thought they got the killer who attacked another journalist a month ago. So I didn't really pay attention," he said.

Then his dad called.

All the dreams, the memories, are wiped off in a second, and there is nothing left.- Haroon Rahimi, shooting victim's brother 

"He explained the story. And then I went back to social media to dig into more because I couldn't speak. I was just shook," he said. "Everybody's screaming, crying. And we were just lost, speechless."

His parents in Afghanistan are living in fear, he said. 

"You raise a kid for 21 years, send them to school, have hope for their future. And then somebody kills them in one shot. And all the dreams, the memories, are wiped off in a second, and there is nothing left," he said.

Rahimi described his sister as a "smart, caring, brave person" who wanted to improve conditions for women in her home country.

"In Afghanistan, in Jalalabad, especially in the Pashtun areas, it's really hard for a woman to work, or even go to school. But Shahnaz, she was ambitious. She was not scared," he said.

Even when one of her colleagues, Malala Maiwand, was killed in December, she didn't back down.

"They always got threats, but they didn't stop because of the belief she had for women's rights and for Afghanistan, and that provoked her to work every day harder than before," he said.

Wave of killings 

There has been a wave of killings of Afghan journalists, media workers, judges, lawyers and activists since the U.S. signed a peace deal with the Taliban a year ago.

In the last six months, 15 journalists and others working in the media in Afghanistan have been killed.

Afghanistan has over 2,000 officially registered media outlets. Violence against journalists was up 26 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, which recorded 132 threats and acts of violence against journalists and media workers last year.

Afghan men pray in front of the coffin of one of three women shot and killed in Jalalabad. (Parwiz/Reuters)

It's unclear who is responsible for the bloodshed. ISIS has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, but many others have gone unclaimed.  

The government blames most on the Taliban, trying to undermine the group's support among Afghans.The Taliban deny any role and blame the government for the slayings, saying it wants to undermine the peace process.

All Rahimi knows for sure is that he'll never see his sister again. 

He said she was a neat freak, always pestering him about keeping everything spotless all the time.  

"But at the same time, she had that soft spot for everybody in the family. And that, I really miss, and will be missing in my life," he said. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Haroon Rahimi produced by Jeanne Armstrong.

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