KHOST, Afghanistan: An Afghan police commander on Friday shot dead a female German photographer working for The Associated Press on the eve of presidential elections, in an attack that also left a Canadian colleague wounded, the news agency and officials said.
The attack took place on the eve of a presidential election that Taleban insurgents have pledged to disrupt through a campaign of bombings and assassinations.
The AP said photographer Anja Niedringhaus had been killed and reporter Kathy Gannon wounded while they were sitting in their car.
Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed instantly, according to an AP Television freelancer who witnessed the shooting.
Canadian reporter Kathy Gannon, 60, was wounded twice and was receiving medical attention, the AP said.
The journalists were shot in their car in the Tanai district of Khost province, in the country’s east, as they reported on distribution of ballot papers for the election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai.
The incident comes as Afghanistan undertakes a massive security operation to protect voters and polling officials, after the Taliban pledged to disrupt Saturday’s ballot with violence.
Kabul has been rocked by a string of high-profile attacks in the run-up to Saturday’s election, which will be the first democratic handover of power in Afghanistan’s turbulent history.
The militants have increasingly been targeting Westerners. In recent weeks, the Taliban also have claimed responsibility for attacks in the capital, Kabul, against a luxury hotel, a foreign guest house, a Swedish journalist and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners.
Anja Niedringhaus is the third journalist working for international media to be killed in Afghanistan during the election campaign, after Swedish journalist Nils Horner and Sardar Ahmad of Agence France-Presse.
Ahmad, AFP’s senior Afghan reporter, was killed along with his wife and two of his three children on March 20 when gunmen smuggled pistols into Kabul’s high-security Serena hotel and shot dead nine people including four foreigners.
Security was tight across Afghanistan ahead of the vote to elect a president to take over from Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from standing again.
Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said all 400,000 of the country’s police, army and intelligence services have been deployed to ensure security around the country.
There was a heavy police presence on the largely deserted streets of Kabul on Friday morning, with officers carrying out stringent checks on vehicles.
The Taliban have pledged to attack the poll, urging their fighters to target election staff, voters and security forces.
Former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah who was runner-up in 2009, and former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul are the leading contenders in the eight-man race.