- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan judges sentenced a man to death yesterday for the slaying of three foreign journalists and an Afghan colleague, who were pulled from their cars, robbed and shot as they rushed to cover the collapse of the Taliban.

The judges also convicted Reza Khan of raping an Italian reporter before she died in one of the deadliest attacks on foreign civilians since the fall of the former hard-line regime.

“You are sentenced to death,” Presiding Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari told Khan at Afghanistan’s Primary National Security Court.

Armed men stopped the journalists as they drove from the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad to the capital on Nov. 19, 2001, six days after the Taliban abandoned Kabul and after heavy U.S. bombing.

The four were Australian TV cameraman Harry Burton and Afghan photographer Azizullah Haidari of Reuters news agency, Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, and Julio Fuentes of Spain’s El Mundo daily. Afghan media had speculated that enraged Taliban and al Qaeda forces falling back from Kabul had killed the reporters.

It was not clear whether Khan, who listened impassively as the verdict was announced, would appeal the death sentence or a separate 15-year prison term for committing “adultery by force” with Miss Cutuli. In court, he denied committing the killings or the rape.

In a confession broadcast on Afghan state television in August, Khan admitted shooting one of the foreigners — it was not clear which one — and raping Miss Cutuli. He said the motive was banditry rather than politics.

Appearing in court Wednesday, however, he said another member of the gang called Rohullah shot the journalists, and he denied the rape charge. He acknowledged that he was present during the killings. He said the gang had to follow the orders of a militia commander called Mohammed Agha.

Khan also admitted fatally shooting one of his three wives with a pistol because she had run away after an argument.

“I apologize to all the foreigners and other Afghans in this room,” he said. “I’m not a murderer. I haven’t killed any journalists.”

Khan said Agha was a commander in the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation in the 1980s who later allied with the Taliban and maintained control of an area near the town of Surobi after the militia’s demise.

He said Agha had forced him and the others to set up a roadblock to prey on passing motorists. Prosecutors say the journalists’ equipment was stolen and sold.

Agha and other suspects remain at large.

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