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Afghan IWPR Contributor Dies in Taleban Attack

Omid Khpelwak had helped arrange an IWPR workshop and agreed to become a local contributor and editor.
By Peter Eichstaedt

The death of Ahmed Omid Khpelwak, the Afghan journalist reportedly killed in a Taleban suicide-bomb attack in Tirin Kot, southern Uruzgan province, is a stark reminder of the dangers facing members of the local and foreign press in the country.

Khpelwak was just 25, had been recently married, and was the proud father of a baby daughter.

Khpelwak had been working informally with IWPR for two months at the time of his death, and had been instrumental in arranging a week-long journalism workshop by IWPR for his fellow Uruzgan journalists.

The journalists included Khpelwak’s brother, Jawid, and four others who were brought from Tirin Kot to IWPR offices in Kabul in early June for a workshop on writing news features for IWPR’s Afghan Recovery Report.

The workshop was funded by a donation from Dutch journalist Noel van Bemmel and the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper, which intends to publish the stories.

In July, Khpelwak began working closely with IWPR’s senior editor in Kabul, Hafizullah Gardesh, and had agreed to join IWPR as both a regular contributor and as local editor who would help coordinate IWPR’s coverage of Uruzgan province.

Just days before he died, Khpelwak had been on the phone with Gardesh and the two had outlined a detailed story about the deteriorating security in Uruzgan province.

Khpelwak was excited about the story because of the topic and because it would be his first opportunity to do a more complex, analytical article for IWPR, Gardesh recalled.

On the morning of Thursday, July 28, Gardesh called Khpelwak to see if he had any additional questions about the story. Khpelwak said he was busy at the time, and asked Gardesh to call back later.

At about 1 pm as news of the Tirin Kot attack was breaking, Gardesh called Khpelwak, hoping to get details of the incident. Khpelwak did not answer. When Gardesh called back about an hour later, Khpelwak’s brother, Jawid, answered.

Omid had died, Jawid said.

Apparently, seven suicide bombers had attacked the offices of Radio and Television Afghanistan, the governmental network and news agency, where Omid had been working; the Governor’s House and the police headquarters.

Khpelwak was among the estimated 21 people, including women and children, who were killed and 38 others wounded in the reported bomb attack and ensuing gun battle with government troops who received air support from NATO.

NATO said that it was investigating the incident after conflicting reports about how Khpelwak was killed.

The BBC said the Taleban claimed responsibility for the attacks but had denied killing the journalist. The broadcaster said the insurgents accused government forces of shooting him as they fought to regain control of the area.

The BBC also reported that a local news agency had suggested that he was killed by foreign troops.

On Sunday, July 31, the South Asia Free Media Association, SAFMA, in Kabul condemned the killing of Khpelwak and called for an investigation. Zia Bumya, the head of SAFMA's Afghanistan chapter, called the perpetrators the "enemy of mankind".

According to reports, SAFMA secretary-general Dr Zahir Ayubi said Khpelwak may have died at the hands of foreign troops, who entered the news media offices in pursuit of the attackers. The claim needed to be probed, Ayubi demanded, so that journalists can be properly protected.

Afghan lawmakers also have reportedly denounced Khpelwak's murder and asked security officials to bring his killers to justice.

Khpelwak is survived by his parents, his wife and baby, his elder brother and three sisters.

Peter Eichstaedt is IWPR’s Afghanistan country director.