The Taliban has denied responsibility for the death of Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui on the frontline in Afghanistan – but said it was “sorry” he was killed.
Siddiqui, who won the Pulitzer prize in 2018, was hit by gunfire while reporting on the attempts by Afghan special forces to retake a key border crossing with Pakistan.
The Indian journalist had been speaking to shopkeepers in the market area of Spin Boldak when the Taliban attacked, according to an Afghan commander quoted by Reuters. India’s foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has condemned the killing.
However, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told Indian television station CNN-News18 that the group does not know how Siddiqui died. “We are not aware during whose firing the journalist was killed,” he said.
The Islamist group turned over Mr Siddiqui’s body to the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday evening.
“We are sorry for Indian journalist Danish Siddiqui’s death,” the spokesperson added. “We regret that journalists are entering war zone without [telling] us.
“Any journalist entering the war zone should inform us. We will take proper care of that particular individual.”
Siddiqui was embedded with Afghan special forces as they attempted to retake the main bazaar in Spin Boldak, which fell to the Taliban on Wednesday.
He had told his employers earlier on Friday that he had been wounded in the arm by shrapnel but was recovering after treatment. Reuters said they were “urgently seeking more information” about his death.
In his last report for the agency, published earlier this week, he documented how Afghan commandos came under attack by the Taliban while trying to rescue a wounded policeman trapped on the outskirts of Kandahar. The Taliban has captured large swathes of territory in Afghanistan in recent weeks as US and Nato troops complete their withdrawal from the country.
Siddiqui won the 2018 Pulitzer prize as part of a team covering the flight of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. He was also known for his reporting in his home nation of India, most recently on the devastating impact of Covid-19 and on the nationwide protests against new farming laws.
A montage of his best work, compiled by Reuters, includes photos of traditional Indian wrestlers covered in mud, Hindu priests praying in a cave above the River Ganges, and a man covered in lint feeding cotton into ageing machinery by hand.
Siddiqui, 38, wrote in a profile on the Reuters website that he liked to cover issues that affected people caught up in different conflicts. “While I enjoy covering news stories – from business to politics to sports – what I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story,” he added.
Ahmad Masood, Asia editor for Reuters Pictures, described Siddiqui as “the best of the best, as a person and a professional”.
The US State Department also expressed its condolences. “Siddiqui’s death is a tremendous loss, not only for Reuters and for his media colleagues but also for the rest of the world,” said deputy spokeperson Jalina Porter.
“He was our eye,” said his former professor Farhat Basir Khan, of Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. “He gave voice and agency to thousands whose suffering might have been lost. If a picture is worth a thousand words, his were worth millions.”
Additional reporting by agencies