A day after two Deutsche Welle freelancers were killed in northern Afghanistan, Karen Fischer and Christian Struwe's bodies were given to the German Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan Interior Ministry said Sunday.
Police said suspects have been identified
Fischer, 30, and Struwe, 38, who were in Afghanistan conducting private research for a documentary, were shot in the province of Baghlan early Saturday morning, according to a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, which handles police affairs.
The governor of Baghlan province, Said Ekramuddin Massumie, told the German news agency dpa Sunday that five to six people had been identified as suspects and the authorities were "almost certain" that they were directly involved in the murders. They were the first foreign journalists to be killed in the country since 2001.
"The sound of the shooting was heard by some of the villagers, who ran toward that area," provincial police chief Mohammad Azim Hashami said. "They found a tent and they found the two journalists dead."
Fischer and Struwe had camped in Baghlan, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) northwest of Kabul, en route to the central province of Bamiyan, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary said.
"They were killed by unidentified people in their tent," he said, adding that authorities are currently investigating the situation.
Police were stumped for a motive, an interior ministry spokesman in the capital Kabul said.
"Recently there was no security incidents in those areas," Bashary said. "I don't know what happened this time ... we are working on that."
Steinmeier calls for justice
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier condemned the journalists' deaths.
"This heinous crime must be solved and the perpetrators brought before justice," he said while expressing his condolences to the victims' families, friends and colleagues.
Deutsche Welle Director General Erik Bettermann also gave his condolences to Fischer and Struwe's families and praised their work in the Middle East.
"Karen Fischer and Christian Struwe did ground-breaking work to reconstruct a functioning media apparatus in Afghanistan," he said. "It is tragic that Karen Fischer and Christian Struwe had to die in the country that they have personally supported over the past years."
Pair had worked with ISAF troops
In Berlin, the Defense Ministry said the two had not been under German military protection at the time of their death.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), however, said it had been informed of the killings.
"The journalists, at the time, were not part of any engagements with ISAF forces and were operating independently," ISAF spokesman Major Dominic White said in Kabul, adding that the pair had been working in cooperation with ISAF until Wednesday. "We don't know the circumstances of their death."
Taliban denies targeting journalists
Five years after the US-led war in Afghanistan, much of the country remains unsafe
Taliban leaders denied any involvement in Fischer and Struwe's deaths.
"Our mujahedeen do not attack journalists," Taliban spokesperson Kari Yussuf Ahmadi told the dpa news agency. "That is not our goal. We only attack Americans and their supporters."
Bamiyan, the journalists' reported destination, is the site of the ancient statues of the Buddha that were blown up by the Taliban regime in March 2001, months before the US-led invasion that started Oct. 7 and brought down the fundamentalist government.
Fischer and Struwe's bodies were discovered Saturday and brought to the provincial capital Pul-i-Khumri where officials found passes identifying them as journalists, according to provincial governor Said Ekramuddin Massumie. He added that the pair's car, cameras and other equipment had not been stolen.
Afghanistan's north calmer than the south
Baghlan is relatively calm and has seen little of the Taliban-linked violence that is plaguing southern and eastern Afghanistan although unrest has increased there this year.
Unknown gunmen killed a Canadian carpenter in Baghlan in July. Mike Frastacky, 56, had been working for four years to build a school in the area. The circumstances behind his murder are still unclear.
Three foreign and an Afghan journalists were killed in a brutal attack in Afghanistan in November 2001 as they were approaching Kabul to do a story on the fall of the extremist Taliban regime in a US-led invasion.
Karen Fischer freelanced for the past three years in Deutsche Welle's English and German radio programs and focused her work on conflicts in the Middle East as well as the reconstruction of Afghanistan. She traveled to the area a number of times for Deutsche Welle, filing reports on a number of issues including the Afghan elections.
Christian Struwe helped set up and train journalists for Radio Television Afghanistan's international news department, a public project supported by the Deutsche Welle. The project was successfully transferred to RTA in August.