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Stop civilian attacks: Afghan Pulitzer Prize winner’s plea to insurgents

An award-winning Afghan photojournalist has appealed to militant groups to end violence against Afghan civilians.

Massoud Hossaini speaking at the JMSC

Massoud Hossaini, who won the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for his photograph of a grief-stricken girl in the aftermath of a suicide bombing last December, said he hoped his reporting would cause insurgents to stop attacks on innocent Afghans. He spoke at the JMSC on Friday, September 28.

“There is no religion in the world that gives permission to kill women and children,” Hossaini said.

“If just one time [insurgents] see this picture and think ‘[What] if this was my daughter?’ I hope some of them [will] see and stop doing this, at least against civilians.”

Hossaini’s winning photo shows Tarana Akbari as she stood screaming outside Kabul’s Abul Fazl Shrine, with her younger brother, sisters and other relatives lying dead or injured at her feet, following one of the worst bombings to hit Kabul in recent years. In an emotional address, Hossaini told a full room of academics, students and journalists how he came to take the shot.

At least 56 people were killed and 195 others injured when a suicide bomber detonated a device on December 6, 2011 in the middle of a crowd gathered at the shrine for Ashura, the annual Shiite holy day.

Hossaini recalled that he was taking photographs just metres away when the explosion went off, and was thrown to the ground by the blast. He said he was disoriented by the impact and bleeding from his left hand, but he believed it was his duty to continue reporting.

“I was scared to die, like everybody else,” said the Afghan photojournalist, but “I was covering this ceremony and that was my responsibility. Anything that happens, I should cover it, I should record it.”

In the worst-hit area, he recognised a flash of green. It was a girl that he had seen earlier in the day, dressed in a traditional green outfit usually worn by boys. The girl, who was screaming for help, had been at the festival with her family and many of them were injured by the blast, some of them fatally.

“All of the story that I wanted to tell was in this moment,” Hossaini said.

Newspapers around the world published the photograph of Akbari. The prize was the first Pulitzer won by an Afghan Journalist, and by Agence France-Presse, the French news agency that Hossaini works for.

His recollection of the events moved many in the audience. “I really feel that he suffered from that war,” said Cindy Chao Yang, a postgraduate journalism student. “He wants to arouse the attention of the world and I think he has done a good job.”

Hossaini said he remains in contact with Akbari and her family. He shared his Pulitzer prize money with them, but said he feels helpless to do more than provide basic financial support.

He said that what he really wants is to take Akbari far away from Kabul so that she no longer has to pass the explosion site every day on her way to school. However, as an Afghan, it is difficult even for him to obtain a visa to leave the country.

Of Afghanistan’s future, Hossaini said: “The war will continue and war journalists will be needed all the time. The next 10 years, I think, will be the most horrible times after World War II.”

A United Nations report released earlier this year found that 1,145 civilians had been killed and another 1,954 injured in Afghanistan in the first half of 2012 alone. According to the report, militant groups were responsible for 80% of the attacks. Last August was the second deadliest month since the UN mission began counting civilian casualties in 2007.