Kabul, Jan 20: Seven employees of popular Afghan TV channel TOLO were killed today when a suicide car bomber rammed into their minibus in Kabul, just months after the Taliban declared the network a legitimate "military target".
At least 25 other people were wounded in the bombing near the Russian embassy in downtown Kabul, marking the first major attack on an Afghan media organisation since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the carnage, as violence escalates despite an international push to jumpstart Taliban peace talks.
"In the terrorist attack today in... Kabul, we lost seven staff members," TOLO, a privately-run news and entertainment station that is often critical of the Taliban, said on Twitter. The bombing left some workers burning inside the vehicle which was taking them home, an employee told AFP, adding that most of those killed were behind-the-scenes staff from the channel's graphics and dubbing departments. The loud explosion sent a plume of smoke rising in the sky, with ambulances and firefighters rushing to the scene which was littered with charred debris.
"The enemy of humanity, peace and Islam martyred our colleagues because they were exposing their crimes," TOLO news presenter Fawad Aman said in a live broadcast.
"They martyred you to silence us, but they will never achieve this evil goal."
The deadly assault highlights the growing dangers faced by media workers in Afghanistan, as the security situation worsens amid escalating militant attacks.
The Taliban in October declared TOLO and 1TV, another privately run news channel, as legitimate "military targets". The group said the move was in response to their reports claiming that Taliban fighters raped women at a female hostel in Kunduz, after the group briefly captured the northern city in late September last year.
The Taliban rejected the reports as fabrications, saying they were examples of propaganda by the "satanic networks". "No employee, anchor, office, news team and reporter of these TV channels holds any immunity," the Taliban said at the time. Today's attack comes just two days after a second round of four-country negotiations in Kabul aimed at reviving talks with the Taliban.
Delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States convened in the Afghan capital Monday for a one-day meeting seeking a negotiated end to the 14-year Taliban insurgency.