Western Journalists Fear Attacks In Afghanistan

By: Nicole Winfield, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Western journalists face the threat of kidnapping or attacks by remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban in the Afghan capital, a spokesman for the international peacekeeping force says.

So far, no Western journalists are known to have been attacked or seriously threatened in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban, although eight of them have been killed in this country since the United States launched its military campaign Oct. 7.

A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Kathleen Kenna, was seriously injured March 4 when a hand grenade was hurled at her car as she was traveling in a convoy of reporters near Gardez. Villagers in the town of Surmad, near the target area of the U.S.-led operation, said Kenna was targeted because she was a foreigner.

Although no such incidents have occurred in Kabul, officials warn that conditions remain uncertain nearly three months after the arrival of international peacekeepers. “Ultimately, we’re in a country where weapons are prevalent and their use has in the past been fairly indiscriminate,” said Flight Lt. Tony Marshall, spokesman for the 4,500-strong force.

He said the threats extend to the capital. Hotels, restaurants, and other areas where journalists congregate are easy targets, he added.

Hans-Jaap Melissen, a correspondent for Radio Netherlands International, said he felt secure in Kabul but sensed the threat of roadside robberies outside of the capital, and as a result avoids certain routes at certain times.

Two weeks ago, the government barred cars from parking in front of the Mustafa Hotel in downtown Kabul, which caters mostly to journalists and aid workers. Plans are under way to equip the two unarmed guards at the front door with metal detectors, said the hotel’s general manager Solaiman Faizi.

He noted dozens of Afghan police patrol the street outside and the bars on the hotel’s doors and windows. A hotel waiter and a young Afghan boy at the hotel were detained briefly last week by Afghan police, but were released and the waiter has resumed work in the restaurant, he said.

During Operation Anaconda, aimed at crushing al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Paktia province, several journalists returned to the capital Tuesday after U.S. officials reported that an imminent attack was being planned against them.

Dozens of journalists had been staying at the Ariana hotel in Gardez to report on the U.S.-led offensive in the nearby nearby Shah-e-Kot mountains.

U.S. forces arrived at the hotel and advised them that they had received unconfirmed reports that an attack was being planned, targeting American journalists there, said Vivienne Walt, special correspondent for USA Today. Walt, who had just arrived in Gardez that afternoon, said she went out and reported for a few hours, but returned in the early evening to find the Ariana virtually empty.

“At that point it actually did feel unsafe to be there,” she said. Walt said she gathered her things, still locked in the room that the BBC had abandoned earlier in the day, and set off for Kabul in a convoy with the Reuters news agency. They arrived in Kabul just before the 10 p.m. curfew, she said.

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