Suicide bombers stormed the national television station in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad city on Wednesday, killing six people as gunfights and explosions rocked the building with journalists trapped inside, officials and eyewitnesses said.
At least 17 others were left wounded in the four-hour assault on Radio Television Afghanistan, which marks the latest in a string of attacks on media workers in the conflict-torn country.
Islamic State jihadists have claimed responsibility for the raid in eastern Nangarhar province, where the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb last month in an unprecedented strike.
“There were four attackers — one blew himself up at the gate, killing the guard. Three others entered the building but were killed after our security forces fought them for four hours,” Nangarhar Governor Gulab Mangal told reporters.
“Six people, including four civilians and two policemen, were killed and 17 others wounded,” he added. A health worker told AFP that many of those brought to hospital suffered gunshot wounds.
An RTA photographer said he fled the building as soon as the gunfight erupted, but many of his colleagues were stuck inside until the assailants were killed.
Nangarhar province is a hotbed of IS jihadists, who claimed Wednesday’s attack through its propaganda agency Amaq, the SITE Intelligence Group said.
The US military last month dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — dubbed the “Mother Of All Bombs” — on IS positions in Nangarhar, killing dozens of militants.
The bombing triggered global shock waves, with some condemning the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that is not considered as big a threat as the resurgent Taliban.
According to the US Forces-Afghanistan, defections and recent battlefield losses have reduced the local IS presence from a peak of as many as 3,000 fighters to a maximum of 800.
Deadly country for media
The Pentagon has reportedly asked the White House to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to break the deadlocked fight against the Taliban.
US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from Nato allies, who also mainly serve in an advisory capacity — a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.
Wednesday’s attack underscores the growing dangers faced by media workers in Afghanistan as the security situation worsens.
The country suffered its deadliest year on record for journalists in 2016, according to the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee (AJSC), adding that the country is the second most dangerous for reporters in the world after Syria.
As least 13 journalists were killed last year, AJSC said, claiming that the Taliban was behind at least ten of the deaths.
In January last year, seven employees of popular TV channel Tolo, which is often critical of the insurgents, were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul in what the militant group said was revenge for “spreading propaganda” against them.
It was the first major attack on an Afghan media organisation since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.
Dan Coats, the head of US intelligence agencies, warned last week that the security and political situation in Afghanistan “will also almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in the military assistance by the US”.
US-led forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for almost 16 years, making it America’s longest war.