JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AP) The bodies of four international journalists have been recovered and were identified by colleagues yesterday, a day after their convoy was ambushed in a narrow mountain pass on the road to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The four journalists had been reported missing and feared dead after the ambush as they drove from the eastern city of Jalalabad. An anti-Taliban leader in the area said the attackers were bandits, although witnesses said they shouted pro-Taliban sayings.
The journalists were Australian television cameraman Harry Burton and Azizullah Haidari, an Afghan photographer, both of the Reuters news agency Maria Grazia Cutuli of Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and Julio Fuentes of the Spanish daily El Mundo.
Militiamen found the bodies and brought them to a hospital in Jalalabad, where they were identified by colleagues.
The four were among more than a dozen international journalists traveling in a convoy of around eight cars from the eastern city of Jalalabad to the capital, Kabul. Because the road was dusty, the cars spread out and often lost sight of each other.
The area recently came under the control of anti-Taliban forces. However, some Taliban stragglers and Arab fighters loyal to terror suspect Osama bin Laden are still believed to be in the area, and there had been earlier reports of armed robberies on the road.
Near the town of Serobi, 35 miles east of Kabul, six gunmen on the roadside waved the first three cars in the convoy to stop. One car sped ahead, while two stopped, said Ashiquallah, driver of the car carrying the Reuters reporters. He uses only one name.
He said the gunmen, wearing long robes, beards and turbans, warned them not to go any farther because there was fighting ahead with the Taliban. At that moment, a bus from Kabul came by and said the road was safe. The cars” drivers thought the gunmen were thieves and tried to speed away, but the gunmen stopped them.
The gunmen then ordered all the journalists out of the cars and tried to force them to climb the mountain. When they refused, the gunmen beat them and threw stones at them, said Ashiquallah.
“They said, “What, you think the Taliban are finished? We are still in power and we will have our revenge,”” Ashiquallah said.
The gunmen then shot the Italian woman and one of the men, prompting the drivers to flee, he said. The Afghan translator, a man named Homuin, was left behind with the journalists.
The cars sped back toward Jalalabad and to warn the rest of the convoy. Other journalists saw the cars turn, and decided to turn around also. Ashiquallah”s account was corroborated by another translator and driver who escaped in the other car.
Haji Shershah, an anti-Taliban commander in Jalalabad, said he spoke to residents and travelers on the road who reported seeing four bodies at the location of the attack.
“They were on the road, one woman and three men,” Shershah said, quoting witnesses.