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RESPONSE TO TERROR | WAR ZONE CASUALTIES

Bodies of 4 Journalists Retrieved on Roadside

Afghanistan: Red Cross will attempt to transport corpses to Pakistan for repatriation to their countries. Six gunmen killed victims in ambush.

November 21, 2001|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Militiamen recovered the bodies of four journalists Tuesday on the roadside where the foreigners were shot by men believed to be Taliban stragglers. The Red Cross will attempt to transport the bodies to Pakistan today for repatriation to their countries.

Preliminary examination Tuesday by doctors at the Jalalabad Public Hospital showed that the three men and a woman had been shot multiple times after being beaten.

The recovery of the bodies, conducted by the Afghan fighters like a military operation, took 20 hours because of uncertain security conditions. Local authorities in Jalalabad, where more than 200 journalists are staying, banned unescorted travel outside the city.

Militia commander Haji Shershah--one of the dozens of former moujahedeen fighters who command small forces here--said he took 40 men with him to the site of the shooting, about three hours' drive over rough road from this eastern Afghan city.

After Shershah's men secured high positions above the Kabul River canyon, a doctor and other men loaded the bodies into a waiting van.

"We found them just off the road, about 10 meters [33 feet] away, where it looked like they had been dragged," said Dr. Mohammed Khalil, of the Pakistani-based Edhi Foundation ambulance service.

The recovery turned ghoulish after the bodies reached the Jalalabad hospital. Haji Zahir, the son of the provincial governor, ordered that the corpses be removed from the morgue so that journalists could take pictures.

Zahir said he did this "at the request of relatives who wanted pictures." However, none of the victims' family members were present in Jalalabad.

The four journalists were Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Julio Fuentes of the Spanish daily El Mundo, and Harry Burton and Azizullah Haidari, both of Reuters news agency.

The four were killed Monday midway between Jalalabad and Kabul, the Afghan capital. Six gunmen, some dressed in Taliban robes and turbans, ordered them from cars and shot them with Kalashnikov assault rifles.

The bodies will be transported to Peshawar, Pakistan, in a convoy directed by the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross.

Because of Red Cross rules, no armed escort will be provided for the six-hour journey through areas known as Taliban strongholds.

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