Globe and Mail, March 11, 2009

Afghan reporter gunned down in Kandahar city

Violent death shocks Western journalists who relied on man known as 'Jojo' for camera work, translation and sourcing information

By Gloria Galloway and Graeme Smith

Afghan media members protest
Afghan media members hold the portraits of Jawed Ahmad, 23, also known as Jojo during a demonstration against his killing, as the writing, right, reads "Death to enemies of freedom" in the city of Herat province west of in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, March 11, 2009. Gunmen in southern Afghanistan killed the Afghan journalist once held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan as an enemy combatant, officials said. (Photo: AP)

A young man who helped Canadian reporters gather news in Afghanistan and was imprisoned by U.S. forces for nearly a year of self-described “hell” was gunned down Tuesday in the centre of Kandahar city.

Jawed (Jojo) Ahmad was driving near the governor's palace when a car pulled up on his passenger side. A man in the vehicle fired into Mr. Ahmad's car, hitting him in the chest. He was declared dead on arrival at Mirwais Hospital in the city.

The violent nature of Mr. Ahmad's death sent waves of disbelief and anger rippling through the tight-knit community of Afghan journalists in Kandahar. The killing also came as a shock to the many Western reporters who relied on him for camera work, translation and help in finding sources of information. He worked frequently for CTV News, among other foreign news organizations.

“Jojo was a courageous young Afghan journalist who worked tirelessly to bring his country's story to the rest of the world through organizations like CTV News,” said Robert Hurst, president of CTV News. “We at CTV are deeply saddened by the news of his passing.”

Afghan police have launched an investigation and say they are looking for a white Toyota, but the majority of cars in Kandahar city match that description.

A week before he died, Mr. Ahmad sent e-mails to several Canadian journalists asking for help leaving the country. He wanted letters in support of a Canadian visa application, hoping to leave Afghanistan this spring, but he did not explain his eagerness to get away so quickly.

In recent months the young journalist was trying to put his life back together after being released from U.S. custody. Mr. Ahmad's family was trying to arrange a marriage for him before he was detained, but the plans were called off when he disappeared into the cells of the U.S. military prison at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.

Freshly released, Mr. Ahmad was tackling new journalism projects with an intensity that suggested he was trying to make up for lost time. Part of his eagerness might also have stemmed from financial problems, as he told friends that he'd fallen victim to Nigerian scammers in 2007 and still owed money to his relatives.

He travelled through dangerous parts of the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and said he had interviewed senior members of the Taliban shura, or ruling council, who do not normally talk to the press. He began freelancing articles for Press TV, an Iranian news service, but continued to hunt for stories that would get the attention of bigger media organizations.

Mr. Ahmad's first job was as a tailor at the age of 12, earning about 75 cents a day to cover the costs of his schooling. He became captain of a soccer team, and his language skills and physical fitness made him an ideal candidate when the U.S. Special Forces arrived in southern Afghanistan looking for translators.

Speech by Yaqub Ibrahimi: "They kill journalists, put them in jail and sentence them to death through this way or even they threaten journalists to death to quit their profession or leave their country. I have many examples for that and I am sure that many of the world journalists also have information in this regard and are aware of it.", May 16, 2008

But his relationship with the Americans eventually took a sharp downward turn. U.S. forces took him into custody in late October, 2007, and he was named an “enemy combatant” by the U.S. military in February of 2008.

He later maintained it was the Canadian military that had told the Americans he was a risk.

While imprisoned at Kandahar Airfield, Mr. Ahmad said he was questioned, taunted, screamed at, beaten with chairs, slammed into walls and denied sleep for nine days.

Later, at Bagram Air Base, he said he was forced to stand for six hours in the snow wearing only a thin jumpsuit – no shoes, no hat – and he fell unconscious twice. Each time the guards forced him to stand up again.

He was released without explanation last September – no explanations are generally given to those who are set free. However, numerous journalists, lawyers and diplomats had been watching his case and he was told by guards that he had people lobbying on his behalf.

“I came from hell,” he said when he was freed. “Now I'm back.”

Mr. Ahmad worked at one time for Four Horsemen International Corporation, a military contractor that describes itself as staffed by “veterans of the nation's elite special operations units, drawn from across all branches of the U.S. military and foreign services.”

Since being released from Bagram, however, he stopped signing his e-mails as a representative of Four Horsemen and started using a new motto as his sign-off: “The Miracle and The Killing Machine.” He said the slogan represented his resilience in the face of hardship.

“I just want people to know again that Jojo is not weakened, he is now more active and more confident than before,” he said in an e-mail last month. “Life and this world only can defeat Jojo when they kill Jojo.”

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