Body of Reuters Photographer Was Mutilated in Taliban Custody, Officials Say

Body of Reuters Photographer Was Mutilated in Taliban Custody, Officials Say
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Body of Reuters Photographer Was Mutilated in Taliban Custody, Officials Say

Body of Reuters Photographer Was Mutilated in Taliban Custody, Officials Say

NEW DELHI – The body of Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters photojournalist who was killed in Afghanistan this month, was severely mutilated while in Taliban custody, officials said this week.

The revelation comes as the fighting in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has waged an aggressive military offensive since the United States withdrew nearly all of its troops, has grown increasingly brutal as peace talks have stalled.

Mr Siddiqui, 38, an Indian national who has taken some of South Asia’s most memorable news photographs in recent years, was killed on the morning of July 16, when Afghan commandos he had accompanied to Spin Boldak, a border district recently captured by the Taliban, has been ambushed. The first photographs of the scene showed Mr. Siddiqui’s body with multiple injuries but completely intact.

But that same evening, when the body was handed over to the Red Cross and transferred to a hospital in the southern city of Kandahar, it was severely mutilated, according to two Indian officials and two Afghan health officials. The mutilation was reported by an Indian website, Newslaundry, in the days following Mr. Siddiqui’s murder.

The New York Times examined several photographs, some provided by Indian officials and others taken by Afghan health workers at the hospital, which showed Mr. Siddiqui’s body had been mutilated. An Indian official said the body had nearly a dozen gunshot wounds and there were tire marks on Mr Siddiqui’s face and chest.

One of the health officials in Kandahar said the body, along with Mr Siddiqui’s press jacket, arrived at the city’s main hospital around 8 p.m. on the day of his murder. His face was unrecognizable, said the official, who added that he could not determine exactly what had been done to the body.

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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any wrongdoing by the insurgents, saying they were ordered to treat the bodies with respect and hand them over to local elders or the Red Cross. But the Taliban controlled the area at the time, and some photographs showed what appeared to be the group’s fighters standing around Mr. Siddiqui’s body, which was then intact.

“The Danes have always chosen to be on the front lines so that abuses and atrocities cannot remain hidden,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch director for South Asia. “The brutality with which Taliban fighters punished Danes proves the abuses he documented.”

Human Rights Watch and other watch groups say the Taliban have carried out a spate of revenge killings in Kandahar province, where some of the most brutal episodes in Afghanistan’s war-torn four decades occurred.

The Taliban came to power from the southern province in the 1990s, promising to end atrocities committed by local militias. In recent years, Afghan forces led by Abdul Raziq, a general assassinated in 2018, have been accused of ruthless tactics as they battled the Taliban in Kandahar. Spin Boldak, where Mr. Siddiqui died, was the hometown of General Raziq. Reports emerged that the Taliban were detaining and in some cases executing people who had been associated with the general.

There are conflicting reports of what happened on July 16, as the Afghan Special Forces Mr Siddiqui was traveling with attempted to retake Spin Boldak.

Testimonies from local officials, as well as Taliban operatives, suggest that Mr. Siddiqui and the Afghan unit commander were killed in an exchange of fire when their convoy was ambushed in several directions. Their bodies were left on the battlefield as the rest of the unit retreated, according to this version of events.

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Some news outlets reported that Mr. Siddiqui could have been captured alive by the Taliban and then executed. These reports could not be confirmed. An Indian official said, however, that some of Mr Siddiqui’s injuries appeared to have come from point-blank gunshots.

Three days before his assassination, Mr. Siddiqui posted a video on Twitter in which he said several rocket-propelled grenades hit the armored vehicle he was in.

His body, in a closed coffin, was returned to his New Delhi home two days after his death. The narrow alley leading to his house was crowded with neighbors and friends. Colleagues – many of whom had accompanied him as he covered some of India’s most tumultuous recent events, such as the mass protests and the coronavirus pandemic – cried, hugged and took comfort.

Mr Siddiqui was buried late at night in a cemetery at Jamia Millia Islamia, the University of New Delhi from which he graduated. During a candlelight vigil, reporters held photos of him wearing his press jacket. The text simply said: “Danish Siddiqui, killed in Afghanistan”.

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