Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer Prize winning Indian photojournalist who worked for Reuters news agency, was killed on Friday in Afghanistan while covering the fierce fighting between Afghan troops and the Taliban terrorists near a border crossing with Pakistan in Kandahar province.
Siddiqui, 38, was on an assignment covering the clashes in the volatile Kandahar region, as the United States withdraws its forces from Afghanistan ahead of the August 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
Afghan special forces had been fighting to retake the main market area of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province when Siddiqui and a senior Afghan officer were killed in what they described as Taliban crossfire, an Afghan commander told Reuters.
'We are deeply saddened to learn that our photographer, Danish Siddiqui, has been killed in Afghanistan,' Reuters president Michael Friedenberg and Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Galloni said in a statement.
He was embedded with Afghanistan special forces in Kandahar province when they came under attack on Friday morning.
'Danish was an outstanding, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague. Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time,' they said.
'We are urgently seeking more information, working with authorities in the region,' the statement said.
At the United Nations, India strongly condemned the killing of Siddiqui.
"We condemn the killing of an Indian Photo Journalist Danish Siddiqui while he was on a reporting assignment in Kandahar in Afghanistan yesterday. I extend our sincerest condolences to his bereaved family," Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said while speaking at the UN Security Council briefing on 'Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Preserving Humanitarian Space'.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said he is 'deeply saddened with the shocking reports' that Siddiqui was killed while covering the Taliban atrocities in Kandahar.
"While I extend my heartfelt condolences to Siddiqui's family and also to our media family, I reiterate my government's unwavering commitment to freedom of speech and protection of free media and journalists," Ghani said.
Afghanistan's ambassador to India, Farid Mamundzay, said he was deeply disturbed by the news of 'the killing of a friend'.
'I met him 2 weeks ago before his departure to Kabul. Condolences to his family & Reuters,' Mamundzay tweeted.
Meanwhile, Siddiqui's body has been handed over by the Taliban to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), sources said in New Delhi.
The sources said the Indian embassy in Kabul is in touch with Afghan authorities to bring back Siddiqui's mortal remains.
Afghanistan's TOLO News, quoting sources said that Seddiq Karzai, the deputy commander of the Joint Special Operations Command was also killed in the attack.
With foreign troops withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years, the Taliban are rapidly capturing territory from government forces across the country, sparking fears of a potential civil war.
The killing of Siddiqui comes as the Taliban captured Spin Boldak district in Kandahar, near a key border post with Pakistan, this week. Fierce fighting has been underway in Kandahar, especially in Spin Boldak, for the last few days.
Pakistan this week closed down the Friendship Gate crossing at the Chaman border in Balochistan province after Taliban fighters took control of the key border crossing point in Spin Boldak in Afghanistan.
Clashes between the government forces and the Taliban have intensified since US troops began to withdraw from the country, ending nearly two-decade of its military presence in the war-ravaged country.
The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamist militia, was evicted from power by the US-led forces in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks in the US.
The Taliban recently claimed their fighters had retaken 85 per cent of territory in Afghanistan -- a figure disputed by the government.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a total of 53 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan between 1992 and 2021.
Siddiqui, who was based in Mumbai, is survived by his wife and two children.
In 2018, Siddiqui won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in feature photography.
He won it alongside a colleague and five others for their work documenting the violence faced by Myanmar's minority Rohingya community.
Siddiqui graduated with a degree in Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. He had a degree in Mass Communication from the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre at Jamia in 2007.
He started his career as a television news correspondent, switched to photojournalism, and joined Reuters as an intern in 2010.