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Associated Press photographer killed, reporter wounded in Afghanistan

A photographer for the Associated Press was killed and a reporter wounded Friday when an Afghan police officer shot each of them multiple times.

The journalists were traveling with election workers in eastern Khost province in a convoy that was protected by Afghan soldiers and police officers, according to the AP.

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, a German photographer, was killed instantly. Kathy Gannon, a Canadian reporter, is in stable condition. Both were veterans with deep experience in the region.

(See: The world through the lens of Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus)

“Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss,” AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said in a statement issued by the wire service.

Niedringhaus earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 as part of a team of AP photographers covering the Iraq War.

Violence has surged in the weeks before Saturday’s presidential election, and journalists have paid a high price. Last month, Swedish journalist Nils Horner was shot and killed while conducting interviews in Kabul. Then, Sardar Ahmad, a reporter for Agence France-Presse, was killed with his wife and two children in an attack on Kabul’s Serena Hotel.

Over the past decade, journalists have not often been targeted in Afghanistan, but that appears to be changing.

More than 60 troops from the U.S.-led coalition have been killed by Afghan soldiers and police officers since 2012, prompting the U.S. military to take action to guard against such assaults. U.S. troops must now be accompanied by two or more “guardian angels” — troops with loaded weapons instructed to protect their comrades — when they interact with their Afghan counterparts

But until Friday, reporters and photographers had never been targeted by Afghan forces. Several Western journalists have embedded with the Afghan army and police — a key storyline as U.S. forces continued their withdrawal.

The man who shot Niedringhaus and Gannon goes by one name, Naqibullah, and was described as a mid-level police officer. He had been transferred to Khost about three months ago, according to Sardar Abdul Makinzoi, a member of the provincial council.

According to the AP report, “Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47.”

The Afghan presidential campaign has narrowed to a field of eight men, who are running to succeed Hamid Karzai.

Makinzoi said the gunman had been a police officer for “a long time” but wasn’t sure how many years he had served.

The two journalists had arrived at the government headquarters of Tani district, where they were covering the delivery of ballots across the province.

The gunman was taken into custody, according to Mubarez Mohammad Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Gannon is being treated at an Afghan hospital in Khost, but the U.S. military is attempting to evacuate her, U.S. officials said.

Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Nairobi since 2014. He served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.

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