New reporting raises questions about killing of NPR journalists

An investigation into the killing of NPR photographer David Gilkey and interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna last year has revealed flaws in the original story put forth by Afghan officials.

New reporting indicates that the attack on an Afghan army unit containing NPR journalists was a pre-planned ambush rather than the random strike that had been previously reported, according to a story published this morning by NPR.

The Taliban, which carried out the strike, was tipped off by an individual or individuals about the coming convoy, according to sources cited by NPR, although a Taliban spokesperson said the terrorist group thought they were military troops, not journalists.

In a statement provided to the broadcaster, NPR news chief Michael Oreskes said the inquiry was prompted by a desire to determine the full truth about Gilkey and Tamanna's deaths.

"After the loss of our colleagues, we wanted to be sure we understood what really happened on the road that day," Oreskes told NPR. "So we kept reporting."

NPR's report also shows that the circumstances surrounding Gilkey and Tamanna's deaths are different from what was originally reported. Tamanna was shot, not killed by a rocket-propelled grenade blast. Gilkey died of severe burns, according to the new report, and there was no organ damage to suggest he was close to a grenade blast.

There are still many unanswered questions about their killings: What prompted the shifting stories? Who tipped off the Taliban? What exactly happened during the attack? Both NPR and the FBI are still investigating the June 2016 assault; the public radio network is conducting a forensic analysis of Gilkey's partially melted camera.

NPR is also taking steps to memorialize the journalists. Earlier this week, Gilkey and Tamanna's names were added to the wall of journalists killed on the job at the Newseum.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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