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Journalists among multiple victims of deadly Kabul suicide blasts

FRANCE 24 screen grab | The two explosions hit central Kabul during the morning rush hour.

At least 25 people were killed, including Agence France-Presse chief photographer Shah Marai, BBC reporter Ahmad Shah, and seven other journalists, when two suicide blasts ripped through Kabul on Monday, police and AFP have confirmed.

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The attacks, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, are the latest deadly assaults on the Afghan capital and have spurred an outpouring of grief among journalists, many of whom took to Twitter to post tributes to their colleagues.

Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said the second explosion came minutes after the first, and targeted reporters at the scene.

"The bomber disguised himself as a journalist and detonated himself among the crowd," he said.

The interior ministry confirmed the death toll and said nine journalists were among those killed. It also said at least 45 people had been wounded, amid fears the death toll could rise.

Along with Marai, two journalists from 1TV, one from Tolo news and one from Jahan TV were among the dead.

BBC World Service director Jamie Angus also confirmed the death of BBC's Afghan reporter Ahmad Shah following the attack.

The 29-year-old had worked for the BBC Afghan service for more than a year, Angus said in a statement. It broadcasts in Pashto and Persian in Afghanistan, the two most commonly spoken languages.

"This is a devastating loss and I send my sincere condolences to Ahmad Shah's friends and family and the whole BBC Afghan team. We are doing all we can to support his family at this very difficult time," Angus said.

IS group claims attack

The blasts follow several bloody attacks across the country including a bombing that targeted a voter registration centre in Kabul killing 60 people last week.

President Ashraf Ghani's government is under pressure on multiple fronts this year as it prepares to hold long-delayed legislative elections in October, while its security forces struggle to get the upper hand on the battlefield and prevent civilian casualties.

Officials have acknowledged that security is a major concern because the Taliban and other militant groups control or contest large swathes of the country.

A Taliban spokesman told AFP they were not involved in Monday’s bombings. However, Western and Afghan officials suspect that the Taliban's Haqqani Network sometimes assists the IS group in carrying out attacks.

In an announcement issued via its propaganda outlet Amaq, the IS group vowed to target US forces and "their intelligence agents" as well as their "internal supporters".

It said the second bomber on Monday had deliberately targeted security forces and the media who rushed to the scene, “taking them by surprise”.

'A treasured colleague'

In a tribute to its slain photographer Shah Marai, who leaves behind six children, AFP’s Global News Director Michèle Léridon spoke of a “devastating blow” for the news agency.

"Shah Marai was a treasured colleague who spent more than 15 years documenting the tragic conflict in Afghanistan for AFP,” Léridon said.

"We can only honour the extraordinary strength, courage and generosity of a photographer who covered often traumatic, horrific events with sensitivity and consummate professionalism,” she added.

Marai joined AFP as a driver in 1996, the year the Taliban seized power, and began taking pictures on the side. He became a full-time photo stringer in 2002, a year after the US invasion, eventually rising through the ranks to become chief photographer in the bureau.

"I taught myself photography, so I am always looking to improve," Marai said in a company profile in 2015. "Now my photos appear around the world.

He added: "My best memories are when I beat the competition by getting the best photographs of the president or someone else, or from the scene of a bomb attack. I like to be first."

Afghan officials, analysts and journalists took to Twitter on Monday to pay tribute to the AFP photographer.

"NO, we can't lose Marai, I am devastated," wrote Sediq Sediqqi, a former interior ministry spokesman.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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