Afghan security officials are investigating a recent attack against two prominent foreign journalists in the country's eastern Khost province bordering Pakistan.
On April 4 a young man from the Afghan National Police force shot and killed Anja Niedringhaus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning German photojournalist, and seriously injured Kathy Gannon, a senior reporter who has spent decades covering the war in Afghanistan.
The gunman has been identified. Known only by his first name, Najibullah, his motive for attacking the two women journalists who had come to Khost to cover Afghanistan's April 5 presidential and local council elections remains unclear.
Gannon, 60, is a veteran Associated Press reporter who began her work in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion that began in 1979.
She continued to report from remote Afghan villages when the country slipped into civil war in the 1990's and, at great personal risk, during the Taliban regime.
Gannon is warmly regarded by Afghans as one of a small number of foreign journalists committed to reporting from the country's most remote regions. Her colleagues in Kabul describe her as a woman who took inspiration from ordinary Afghans and enjoyed telling their stories.
Amir Shah, an Associated Press journalist and a friend of Gannon's for more than two decades, told RFE/RL's Afghan service that "an attack on a defenseless woman who wanted nothing else but to try to help brings shame and the feeling of helplessness."
Shah described working with Gannon during the Taliban regime. He praised her bravery as a woman who was the last to be scared when it came to reporting on an issue that interested her.
Obviously shaken, Shah recalled, "On one of our trips to Kandahar in 1996, Kathy bought a little pomegranate tree to plant in the backyard of our office in Kabul. It is still there. She loved Afghanistan's pomegranates."
Shah recalled that the first question Gannon would ask any little Afghan girl she met on reporting trips in the country's remote villages was, “do you go to school?”
Seeing Afghan girls going to school brought her great joy, Shah said, noting the many times they discussed the importance of women's empowerment for Afghanistan's future prosperity.
Shah had seen Gannon right before she left for Khost.
After the attack, Gannon and Niedringhaus were rushed to the local hospital in Khost for emergency treatment and then transported to Kabul. Shah next saw his friend at the hospital. "She had bullets in her chest and both arms, [and was] on a hospital bed fighting to regain consciousness," he said.
"I couldn't [bear to] see this kind woman struggling for [her] life. She hardly knew what had happened to her," said Shah, adding, "Honestly, I felt kind of ashamed that she was attacked by an Afghan man."
She has been transferred to Germany for further medical care.
Shah said senior Afghan security officials have disclosed information to the media that the attacker "is possibly mentally unstable--something attacks his brain and he loses control," but to date no evidence has been brought to support such claims.
His colleagues in Khost province have described him as a man of strong faith and discipline, and told the media that he treated others respectfully and was not on drugs.