Three female journalists were shot and killed as they left a studio and were walking home from work. A fourth was also shot and is fighting for her life at a local hospital. The attack, the latest in a series of attacks against journalists, government workers, activists, and judges, took place in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

Zalmai Latifi, director at the local Enikass television station, said that the women, ages 18-20, had all recently graduated from high school. They were killed in two separate attacks. Two people who were in close proximity to the attacks were wounded. 

“They are all dead. They were going home from the office on foot when they were shot,” Latifi said. He added that the station had employed 10 women, but now four of them were shot, and killed by gunmen. 

The three women dubbed dramas from Turkey and India into Afghanistan’s local languages of Dari and Pashtu. There were 50 journalists killed in Afghanistan in 2020. In December, Malalai Maiwand, a female presenter for Enikass Radio and TV was killed along with her driver in Jalalabad.

Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists following Mexico, especially since the government and Taliban began peace talks in Doha following the agreement with the United States. Women, in particular, are being targeted for assassinations.  

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the killings and said, “attacks on innocent compatriots, especially women, are contrary to the teachings of Islam, Afghan culture, and the spirit of peace.”

The Islamic State announced that it was responsible for the attack.

Nangarhar police chief Juma Gul Hemat said an armed suspect was later taken into custody following the shootings and added that authorities were still looking for other culprits.

“We arrested him as he was trying to escape,” said Hemat. “He has admitted he carried out the attack. He is a Taliban member.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, however, denied that they had any role in the killings.

Mujib Khalwatgar, head of Afghan media advocacy group Nai, said that “the targeted killing of journalists could cause a state of fear in the journalistic community, and this could lead to self-censorship, abandonment of media activities, and even leaving the country.”

The Afghan government and the Taliban are conducting peace talks but are mired down with the Taliban increasing their attacks against government facilities, civilians, and military bases. At the same time, the new administration of President Joe Biden is reviewing the peace deal that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban. Under that agreement, the U.S. is slated to pull out of Afghanistan by May 1, if the Taliban meet certain requirements. There are only 2,500 American troops and 9,000 NATO troops currently left in the country. 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement on social media condemning the attacks while adding condolences to the families.

“These attacks are meant to intimidate; they are intended to make reporters cower; the culprits hope to stifle freedom of speech in a nation where the media has flourished during the past 20 years. This cannot be tolerated,” the embassy tweeted in a statement.