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Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui killed in Kandahar .

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Pulitzer-winning Reuters photographer and Delhi native Danish Siddiqui, whose searing pictures of the Rohingya sufferings, Delhi riots and Indians’ Covid misery had captured world attention, was killed in Afghanistan on Friday. He was 38. Siddiqui was covering a clash between Afghan forces and Taliban fighters in Kandahar, an Afghan commander said. Siddiqui and a senior Afghan officer were killed in Taliban crossfire as government forces fought to retake the main market area of Spin Boldak near a border crossing with Pakistan, the official said.

One of the finest Indian news photographers of the past decade, Siddiqui had been embedded as a journalist earlier this week with Afghan special forces based in the southern province of Kandahar and had been reporting on the fighting with the Taliban.

Siddiqui had earlier on Friday told Reuters he had been wounded in the arm by shrapnel while reporting on the clash. He was treated and Taliban fighters later retreated from the fighting in Spin Boldak.

Siddiqui had been talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again, the Afghan commander said. Reuters was unable to verify the details independently.Siddiqui was part of the Reuters photography team to win the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis, a series described by the judging committee as “shocking photographs that exposed the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar .

A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hong Kong protests, Nepal earthquakes, Mass Games in North Korea, Muslim converts in England and the living conditions of asylum seekers in Switzerland.

In recent months, his photographs capturing the Covid devastation in India were published across the world. Among those he featured were labourer Dayaram Kushwaha who had walked four days with his family from Delhi to his Uttar Pradesh village, and Covid patients who were being treated by quacks under a tree in a village near Noida.

Images of Siddiqui lying on the ground with his flak jacket removed were being shared on the Internet on Friday, some of them by Right-wingers celebrating the death of a man who had documented the mass cremations during the pandemic — whose photography BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh had tried to prevent.

Opposition leaders — and even Union information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur — who tweeted their condolences and a link to Siddiqui’s photos of the Rohingya refugees were abused for seeking “liberal validation”.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “Our ambassador in Kabul is in touch with Afghan authorities. We are keeping his family informed of the developments.”

An Indian source said: “We have been informed the body has been handed over by the Taliban to the International Committee of the Red Cross. We are facilitating the return of the body in coordination with Afghan authorities and the ICRC.”

Siddiqui, who is survived by his wife Rike and two young children, was a largely self-taught photographer who scaled the heights of his profession while documenting wars, riots and human suffering.

Friends and colleagues described a man who cared deeply about the stories he covered, carrying out meticulous research before embarking on assignments and always focusing on the people caught up in the news.

“Even in breaking news cycles he would think about humanising a story, and you see that so often in his pictures, including those that won the Pulitzer and stories we have done in the last few years,” said Devjyot Ghoshal, a Reuters correspondent based in New Delhi and a neighbour of Siddiqui.

“Covering the Delhi riots together and the Covid-19 pandemic more recently, his most compelling images were about people, isolating the human element.”

Last year, while covering the riots in a Delhi suburb, Siddiqui and Ghoshal saw a Muslim man, Mohammed Zubair, being beaten by a frenzied Hindu mob. The images were widely featured in international media. Siddiqui, a Muslim, had a narrow escape when the mob turned its attention on him.

Those photographs were part of a selection of Reuters pictures of the year in 2020.

Siddiqui also snapped a teenager as he fired at a march held by Jamia Millia Islamia students against the new citizenship regime last year.

Most journalists had ducked when the attacker, identified as Gopal Sharma, fired and injured a student, Shadab Farooq. But Siddiqui, who was standing quite close to the shooter, calmly clicked pictures before prudently moving away.

Siddiqui provided video and text from his assignments as well as photographs.

Earlier this week he was travelling with a convoy of commandos when it came under heavy fire from Taliban militants on the outskirts of Kandahar. He captured the drama in pictures, film and words, tweeting videos of a rocket-propelled grenade hitting the Humvee truck he was in.

“Ninety per cent of the photography I have learnt has come from experimentation in the field,” Siddiqui once wrote.

“What I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story. I shoot for the common man who wants to see and feel a story from a place where he can’t be present himself.”

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the outfit had not been aware there was a journalist reporting from the site of what he described as a “fierce battle” and that it was not clear how Siddiqui had been killed.

While Reuters and Afghan news channel Tolo News reported that Siddiqui was killed on Friday, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Farid Mamundzay, tweeted that he died on Thursday night.


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