Taliban jihadists in Afghanistan reportedly warned media organizations Thursday not to promote immorality and foreign cultures.
The warning comes a day after the terrorist group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed seven journalists employed by TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s biggest and most-watched television channel.
Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), has arrested eight members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani Network who are suspected of having been involved in the attack, reports TOLO’s news wing.
Various governments, human rights groups, and rival news outlets condemned the deadly Taliban suicide car bombing in Kabul as an assault on freedom of the press.
The Taliban suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying TOLO TV staffers as it was driving near the Russian Embassy, which prompted initial claims that the consulate was the target.
However, the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility, saying they specifically targeted TOLO TV. The Taliban referred to the TV station as a “spy agency” and noted that “they had made good on earlier threats to attack the station,” reports The Associated Press (AP).
They claimed they attack TOLO for “promoting obscenity, irreligiousness, foreign culture and nudity,” the Taliban reportedly said in a statement, adding, “Its workers were anti-jihad and anti-Islam elements trained by foreign intelligence toiling for the Americans.”
“The Taliban openly threatened to target the station last year after it reported allegations of summary executions, rape and kidnappings by Taliban fighters during the battle for the city of Kunduz,” reports Reuters. “Although some details of those reports have been disputed, [TOLO] insists it was scrupulous in reporting all sides of the fighting, including allowing Taliban spokesmen a right of reply.”
On Thursday, the Taliban pointed out that it was not specifically going after the media, but warned organizations not to align themselves with TOLO, it adds.
Seven TOLO TV staff members were reportedly killed and 26 wounded in Wednesday’s suicide bombing.
“The emergence of a free and vibrant media is seen as one of the main achievements of post-Taliban Afghanistan,” notes Reuters. “During their five years in power, the Taliban banned television to stop people viewing what they derided as vulgar, immoral and anti-Islamic material.”
The TV station provides viewers with a mixture of news, current affairs, and talks shows, in addition to soap operas and other entertainment.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani described the Taliban attack as an assault on Afghanistan’s constitution and national values, reports TOLO News.
“This cowardly attack was not just on journalists, but on our constitution and exalted values. Freedom of expression is a value enshrined in Afghanistan’s constitution. It is non-negotiable,” he said, describing those were killed as “martyrs of freedom.”
He added that those who stand against Afghanistan’s values and constitution will be isolated.
Citing an NDS statement, TOLO News reports that the eight Haqqani Network terrorists, who were arrested in connection to the attack, plotted the deadly assault.
“According to the Afghan intelligence agency, Taliban attacks on civilians indicates that the group has lost its credibility and they cannot justify their crimes in line with Islamic principles, Afghan culture and humanitarian values,” notes the report.
TOLO created Afghanistan’s first-24 hour news channel.
The TV station “has won a reputation for fast, credible reporting in a shifting media landscape that features scores of newspapers, broadcasters and online news sites,” points out Reuters.
“Reporting in Afghanistan has long come with risks. There are often threats against individual journalists, but this was a rare targeted attack on a national media group,” it adds. “Many of the journalists who died in the attack were buried on Thursday surrounded by crying relatives who expressed frustration with the government for failing to improve security.”
Although the U.S. military claims the Taliban controls less than 5 percent of Afghanistan, some independent assessments show the group’s reach is greater than at any point since their regime was removed by the United States military in 2001.
The Taliban has has been engaged in turf battles with a growing branch of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Afghanistan. Known as the Khorasan Province (ISIL-K), the branch declared victory over the Taliban in the latest edition of ISIS’ propaganda magazine, Dabiq.