Afghan robber confesses to killing of journalist

Clockwise from top left: Harry Burton, Julio Fuentes, Azizullah Haidari and Maria Grazia Il Cutuli

Part of the mystery surrounding the murder of two Reuters journalists in Afghanistan nearly three years ago was solved last week when a man confessed his involvement on state-run television.

An Afghan, who identified himself as Reza Khan, admitted killing one of the reporters in November 2001 in an attack that took place just days after the fall of the Taliban at the hands of US forces.

Television cameraman Harry Burton from Australia and Afghan photographer Azizullah Haidari, both 33, were killed on November 19 by unidentified gunmen who stopped the journalists’ vehicle near Tangi Abrishum, some 90km (55 miles) east of Kabul.

Spanish journalist Julio Fuentes of El Mundo and Italian journalist Maria Grazia Il Cutuli of Corriere della Sera were also killed in the attack.

Khan confessed in a recorded interview on Kabul TV last week to killing one of the journalists in a robbery, but did not specify which one. Reuters then obtained a copy of the interview, in which Khan identified a man called Mahmood Zar Jan as the ringleader. It was he, said Khan, who suggested a gang of around 12 men went to Tangi Abrishum to rob businessmen travelling en-route.

“I shot one of them and Mahmood Zar Jan and Mohammad Agha shot the others,” Khan said in the interview. He said Jan paid him “15,000” in an unspecified currency and stole the reporters’ equipment after the attack.

When asked which of the journalists he killed, Khan said only that his victim was an “old man”.

According to Reuters, he may have been referring to Fuentes, who was 46.

The interview shed some light on the deaths of the journalists as Afghan officials had previously said ousted Taliban militia or Al Qaeda members probably attacked them.

The global news agency, has seen a number of its journalists killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the advent of the US-led “War on Terror” which began shortly after the September 11 attacks on America.

“We deplore the deaths of professional journalists doing their jobs,” said David Schlesinger, Reuters’ global managing editor.

“Far too many colleagues from Reuters and other organisations have been killed in recent years in an atmosphere where it is increasingly dangerous for journalists to do their necessary work of telling the story in words, pictures and film.”

“We’re pleased that the investigation into the deaths of Harry and Aziz has been active and has resulted in arrests. We hope that through the proper course of justice our brave colleagues’ careers and lives will be honoured and remembered.”

By Wale Azeez

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