Published July 18, 2008
The Afghan journalist who filmed and photographed the July 12 execution of two women by the Taliban says he was detained and held for two days by authorities in Afghanistan for suspected ties to terrorists.
The footage and photographs of the executions were distributed by the Associated Press and widely circulated on the Internet, giving rise to suspicions that the photographer, Rahmatullah Naikzad, was connected with the Taliban.
In an exclusive telephone interview, Naikzad told FOXNews.com that he turned himself in to Afghan authorities early this week and was held in custody and investigated for 48 hours. He said officials "asked me why I went to the Taliban at night — how come they didn't harm me."
Naikzad said he has no ties with the Taliban, and he gave the following account of why and how he became witness to the executions.
He said the Taliban issued a press statement calling all media outlets in the province of Ghazni, which has a large Taliban presence, to cover them “carrying out the Shariah” on a few burglars in their custody. Naikzad said he believed the Taliban would be cutting off the limbs of their prisoners, according to strict Islamic law.
He said he and other journalists were reluctant to go because of security concerns, but that an unknown person who identified himself as a member of the Taliban contacted him directly on his cell phone and assured him of his safety.
“We talked for about five minutes on the phone, and he said my safety was absolutely guaranteed,” Naikzad explained.
He said he checked with the Kabul office of the Associated Press, for which he works as a stringer, and then set off around sunset on his motorbike to a village on the outskirts of Ghazni City, only to find that no other journalist was there.
That, he said, was when he learned it was two women — and not burglars — whom the Taliban had arrested, and that they had been charged with running a prostitution ring for coalition soldiers and local men.
Naikzad interviewed and filmed the Taliban, who said on tape that the two women “took the pure girls and women” and “indulged them in immoral acts.”
After the interview, he said, the Taliban picked up the two burqa-clad women from a house, put them in a white Toyota Corolla and drove off to a different location.
Naikzad said he followed the Corolla on his bike, with a Taliban car following him.
About a half-hour later, he said, they stopped near Arzo village, close to the Ghazni-Paktika highway, on the outskirts of the province.
The women — one of whom appeared to be carrying a shopping bag — were then taken out of the car and told they would be executed.
Naikzad said he tried to persuade the Taliban not to carry out the executions.
“I told one of the Taliban, ‘These are women, they are harmless. Why would you want to kill them?’ But they didn’t listen to me.”
When his pleas went unheeded, he said, he asked the Taliban if he could film the execution.
“I wanted to show how the women were killed and have a proof of their death,” he said.
He said the Taliban turned him down, but his camera was already rolling and he kept it on when he placed it on the seat of his bike.
Two Taliban cocked their guns. Soon, five bullets were sprayed into the back of one woman, and six or seven pierced the head of the other. The women shouted and cried for a short moment, then went silent.
Naikzad said the Taliban did not notice that his camera was still rolling.
But the camera did not remain stationary. The videotape shows that it moved from left to right, apparently to capture the two executioners.
“I was standing near the bike, so my body may have touched the camera,” Naikzad said, explaining the movement of the camera. He stumbled slightly and added, “I myself nudged the camera a little bit.”
Naikzad said the Taliban offered him the opportunity to come with them for the night, since the road back home was dangerous. He said he declined the offer, and rode home.
The next morning, he said, he consulted with the AP, because he wanted to return to the village and photograph the women’s bodies. He said the AP agreed and he rode back to the scene of the executions.
Villagers stood nearby as he filmed and photographed the corpses. A stream of dried blood trailed from one body. The other woman’s shopping bag remained near her, its contents scattered.
“There was a beige handbag and a comb … a mirror and some cosmetics in it,” Naikzad said.
Naikzad said he was detained for two days after his video appeared on the Internet, but that he was released for three days following the death of a relative. He said he was treated well in custody, and that he is cooperating with the National Directorate of Security, the agency that interrogated him.
“Around 60 pages of investigative material were produced from my interrogation,” he said.
“I am willingly going back into custody once the [three-day] period ends,” he said, adding, “I have nothing to fear.”
Some bloggers who have seen the video of the executions have expressed concerns that Naikzad may be connected with the Taliban, and that the Associated Press was used as a propaganda tool.
But Naikzad denied any ties with the terrorists and said he has given equal coverage to the different sides in conflict in the province.
“If I have photographed Taliban casualties, I have also photographed American casualties. I have been balanced in my journalism,” he said.
Paul Colford, director of media relations for the Associated Press, said in response to an inquiry: "The Associated Press has been following this case closely with some concern."