By Edward Girardet. (Followed by an open letter of the Afghanistan Foreign Press Association (AFPA).
The brazen assassination of veteran British-Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner by unknown assailants in the streets of Kabul earlier this week has been claimed by Fidai Mahaz, a hardline fundamentalist group. Mahaz, which was linked to the kidnapping of New York Times correspondent David Rohde in 2008, maintained on its website that Horner was spying for the British intelligence agency, MI6. However, there is no proof that Mahaz was indeed responsible. Nor did the Mahaz site offer any evidence that Horner was involved in espionage.
Given past incidents of kidnappings and murder against both civilians and foreigners since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001, rogue elements within various Afghan government ministries could just as easily be involved. The fact that Horner was shot in a high security zone in Wazir Akbar Khan the heart of the capital also suggests that insiders within the Afghan government or security forces could be implicated.
However, it is doubtful that a bandit group is responsible given that they would have no interest in killing an outsider as their principal interest is financial. Other insurgent factions, including Hezb-e-Islami and the Taliban, have denied any involvement, but this does not mean that they have nothing to do with it. Both Hezb and the Taliban have heavily infiltrated various ministries.
Horner, 51, had just arrived back in Afghanistan and was known to be investigating the attack of a popular Afghan-Lebanese restaurant in Kabul last January in which 21 people died, including 17 foreigners. “He may have come to close to home for those behind this attack,” noted one British observer, who knew Horner well. “Basically, anyone could be behind this. The Mnistry of Interior. Defense. The Taliban. Pakistan. Take your pick.”
Ironically, the restaurant was not far from where Horner was killed. Horner began covering Afghanistan for Swedish public radio in 2001 and regularly travelled to Kabul to report. Based out of Hong Kong, he also covered other conflict zones such as Iraq, Egypt and East Timor.
Edward Girardet is the author of Killing the Cranes – A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan as well as editor of The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan.
Statement by the Afghanistan Foreign Press Association on the murder of Nils Horner in Kabul.
The Afghanistan Foreign Press Association expresses the strongest outrage, deepest concern, and profound sorrow regarding the murder of our respected colleague, Nils Horner of Sveriges Radio (Swedish Radio) in Kabul, on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Nils had made repeated trips to Afghanistan since the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and his continuing dedication to seeking the truth despite the country’s difficulties and waning international attention to its plight was an inspiration to us all.
A Swedish and British citizen, Nils covered many historic stories on the Asian continent over the last dozen years, from the Afghan and Iraq wars to the Tsunami of 2004. “This was his life,” said Cilla Benko of Sveriges Radio. “He didn’t want to do anything else.” Few people achieve such a unity of profession and essence.
We condemn this latest instance of the cowardly war against a free press, and offer our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and closest colleagues.