Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui executed by Taleban: Afghan probe

Mr Danish Siddiqui was killed in a clash between an Afghan National Army unit he was covering. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Questions are being raised over the circumstances of the death in Afghanistan on July 16 of award-winning Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui.

Thus far it has been reported that Mr Siddiqui, an Indian national, was killed in a clash between an Afghan National Army unit he was covering and the Taleban, as Afghanistan sinks deeper into civil war in the wake of the withdrawal of United States forces.

But, according to a Washington Examiner report on Thursday (July 29) citing an Indian government source, a local Afghan investigation found that the 38-year-old Mr Siddiqui was lying wounded by shrapnel, in a mosque, after being separated from the Afghan army unit he was covering in Spin Boldak, in southern Kandahar province, during the clash with the Taleban.

The Taleban, hearing he was in the mosque, attacked it and killed him. They even verified who he was, the investigation claims.

Afghan army men, including the commander of the unit he had been embedded with, who came to the mosque to rescue Mr Siddiqui, were also killed.

The incident took place on July 16.

Mr Siddiqui had reported to his editors that he had sustained a shrapnel wound to the arm during a clash between Afghan troops and the Taleban in Spin Boldak, but that he had been treated for the injury, according to Reuters. Later, as he was interviewing local shopkeepers, the Taleban attacked again, the news agency said, quoting an Afghan commander.

Following reports of his death, a Taleban spokesman told CNN-News18: "We are not aware during whose firing the journalist was killed. We do not know how he died."

The spokesman, Mr Zabiullah Mujahid, was quoted as saying: "Any journalist entering the war zone should inform us. We will take proper care of that particular individual."

He reportedly said: "We are sorry for Indian journalist Danish Siddiqui's death. We regret that journalists are entering war zones without intimation to us."

Mr Siddiqui's death sent shock waves through the south Asian media community in particular. He had covered war zones and crises from Iraq to Hong Kong to Nepal, Reuters noted. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 as part of the Reuters team covering the 2017 Rohingya refugee crisis.

"Danish was an outstanding journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague," Reuters said. "Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time."

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter that he was "deeply saddened with the shocking reports" of Mr Siddiqui's death.

Bangladeshi photographers lit candles, hold placards and a photograph of Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui as they pay tribute in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 19, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

But the investigation claims the killing was both deliberate and brutal.

The Straits Times was separately shown, by the Indian government source, pictures and a video of Mr Siddiqui's bullet-riddled body, with his head battered, being examined and lying wrapped in a white cloth in a simple plywood coffin.

The Afghan investigation found that Mr Siddiqui was with a team of the Afghan National Army in the Spin Boldak region, near the Pakistan border, to cover ongoing fighting there. The Taleban have since taken over the area and are collecting taxes from locals, the Pakistani daily Dawn reported on July 28.

At a spot around 500m from a customs post they came under attack by the Taleban.

A team of three, plus Mr Siddiqui, was apparently separated from the Afghan Army unit commander. Mr Siddiqui, who was injured by shrapnel, was reportedly taken to the mosque where he was being treated, the investigation found.

The manner in which he was shot, with several rounds piercing his body and his head injured, indicated a purposeful act aimed at sending a clear signal to foreign journalists, the investigation contended.

Asked to comment on the latest reports, a Reuters spokesman told The Straits Times on Friday (July 30): "We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague Danish Siddiqui."

"We are working to verify the facts around Danish's death. Danish was an outstanding journalist and a much-loved colleague. We are doing everything we can to support his family - now and in the long term - and will continue to honour his memory."

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