Mursal Wahidi, Sadia Sadat and Shahnaz Roafi — all reportedly in their early 20s — worked in the voice-over department at the privately owned Enikass Radio and TV in the city of Jalalabad in Nangahar province, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). As part of their work, they dubbed TV shows and films into local languages.
The women were heading home from the office around 4 p.m. when they were gunned down in two separate attacks; Sadat and Roafi were killed while walking together, and Wahidi was shot in another part of town, CPJ reported. A fourth woman was injured in Tuesday’s shootings and taken to a hospital, according to BBC Persian.
In December, another female journalist at the station, Malalai Maiwand, 26, was similarly gunned down, along with her driver, in an attack also claimed by the Islamic State.
The slayings underscore the deep security challenges facing Afghanistan ahead of a May 1 deadline for President Biden to decide whether to withdraw U.S. troops. Last February, the United States and Taliban leaders signed a deal conditioning the removal of U.S. soldiers by May on the Taliban reducing violence and cutting ties with extremist groups.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the slayings Tuesday and blamed them on the Taliban and the atmosphere of violence the Islamist group foments, BBC Persian reported. Maj. Gen. Juma Gul Hemat, the police chief of Nangahar, also said Tuesday that they had arrested a Taliban-linked suspect.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, however, denied the group was involved in a statement Tuesday on Twitter.
Instead, the Islamic State claimed responsibility late Tuesday, saying the women were targeted because they worked for media outlets “loyal” to the “apostate Afghan government,” CBS News reported.
Such targeted assassinations in Afghanistan have largely gone unsolved. While typically no specific group claims responsibility, such attacks by insurgent groups undermine efforts by the embattled Afghan government to assert control over the conflict-ridden country.
“Working for a news outlet or broadcaster in Afghanistan carries immense risk, and impunity will only further the cycle of violence and fear,” Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, said in a statement Tuesday.
Women have been targeted in part because of the gains they’ve made in the two decades since the highly conservative Taliban, which denied women of many of their basic rights, was pushed from power.
After many years of a U.S.-led war against the Taliban, however, the situation remains dangerous.
Shaharzad Akbar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, lamented in a statement on Twitter that the “Afghan media community has suffered too much” and “Afghan women have been targeted & killed too often.” The killing of civilians, she wrote, is destroying Afghanistan’s future.