Update, August 26, 2021: Reuters has published a fuller account of Danish Siddiqui's death, including a remembrance of his work and explanation of security considerations surrounding his assignment.
On July 16, Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters photojournalist, was killed in Afghanistan. Siddiqui, an Indian citizen, had been reporting from the southern province of Kandahar, where Afghan government forces have been pushing back against Taliban offensives.
Citing an Afghan military commander, Reuters initially reported that Siddiqui and an Afghan officer were caught in a crossfire.
“Siddiqui told Reuters he had been wounded in the arm by shrapnel earlier on Friday while reporting on the clash,” the news agency said in its initial report. “He was treated, and Taliban fighters later retreated from the fighting in Spin Boldak.”
“Siddiqui had been talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again,” Reuters reported, noting that it hadn’t independently confirmed the information.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told CNN-News18 that the militant group, known for its brutality, did not know how Siddiqui died:
“We are not aware during whose firing the journalist was killed. We do not know how he died.”
Mujahid’s statement was misleading. According to subsequent reports, Siddiqui may have been captured and possibly tortured, with the Taliban mutilating his body.
On July 29, Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official who is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., accused the Taliban of “brutally murdering” the journalist. Citing local Afghan officials and a video and photographs of Siddiqui’s body provided by an Indian government source, said Siddiqui was captured alive in a mosque where he had found shelter and was receiving first aid for shrapnel wounds.
“The Taliban beat Siddiqui around the head and then riddled his body with bullets,” Rubin wrote in The Washington Examiner newspaper. “Siddiqui was alive when the Taliban captured him. The Taliban verified Siddiqui’s identity and then executed him, as well as those with him.”
Rubin, whose expertise is in the Mideast, declined to provide more information to the Voice of America, saying he had to protect his sources. He has been a forceful critic of the Biden administration’s Afghan policy and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from what is the country’s longest war.
But Rubin’s wasn’t the only report alleging Taliban brutality in Siddiqui’s death.
On July 31, The New York Times, citing unnamed Indian and Afghan officials, reported that Siddiqui’s body had been “badly mutilated” while in Taliban custody.
The Times said "multiple photographs” taken at a hospital and others provided by Indian officials showed tire marks on Siddiqui’s chest and face, as well as “nearly a dozen bullet wounds.” Citing Taliban denials of wrongdoing, the Times reported: “But the Taliban were in control of 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.”
On August 2, CNN-News18 reported that it had gained access to Siddiqui’s autopsy file, which included photographs and X-rays of his body. According to the channel, the autopsy “confirmed” that he was “brutally tortured to death.” Twelve bullets were in his body, and he was “dragged out in a heavy vehicle and mutilated,” CNN-News18 said.
“We are working to verify the facts around Danish’s death,” Reuters said in a statement to VOA. “Danish was an outstanding journalist and a much-loved colleague. We are doing everything we can to support his family – now and in the long term – and will continue to honor his memory.”
Siddiqui was buried in a closed coffin in his home city of New Delhi two days after his death, the Times said. He's survived by a wife and two young children.
With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Taliban, a militant Islamic movement that ruled Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, has expanded control over the country’s territory, with the aim of overthrowing the secular government in Kabul.
On July 16, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International expressed its condolences for Siddiqui’s death and demanded protection for journalists.
“To preserve the fundamental right to freedom of expression and ensure public access to reliable information, reporters engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be provided with better protection measures by the authorities,” Amnesty said.