The reporters were identified as Johanne Sutton, 34, of Radio France Internationale, Pierre Billaud, 31, of France’s RTL Radio and Volker Handloik, 40, a free-lance reporter for the Berlin-based Stern newsmagazine.
The three, believed to be the first journalists killed during the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan, were reportedly riding on the roof of a Northern Alliance armored personnel carrier when Taliban soldiers opened fire. They were among six reporters who were journeying with rebel forces to determine whether the Northern Alliance had captured the town of Taloqan.
Reporter Paul McGeough of Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald said the vehicle was hit by semi-automatic weapons and rocket-powered grenades from Taliban fighters waiting to ambush Northern Alliance troops.
“The APC lurched violently, causing some to fall off while others chose to jump off,” McGeough wrote. “As the APC ploughed down incredible slopes on Sunday night, I hung on for grim death.”
French radio journalist Veronique Rebeyrotte said the vehicle sped away once rebel soldiers realized they were under attack.
“The tank, under gunfire, took off again very, very quickly,” she told France-Info radio. “The anguish was trying to know what happened to our friends who fell off the tank.”
Rebeyrotte told Reuters the vehicle left the three journalists behind and their bodies were recovered later by rebel troops.
McGeough said he, Rebeyrotte and Canadian journalist Levon Sevunts returned to camp some 90 minutes after the ambush.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the deceased journalists.
“Reporters working on the front lines of this conflict are doing critically important work at great personal risk,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement.
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin expressed “very great sadness” over Sutton’s death.
“In my name and in the name of the government, I offer my deepest sympathies to the family of Johanne Sutton and I share the pain of her loved ones and the mourning of the community of war correspondents,” he said in a statement.
Thomas Osterkorn, chief editor at Handloik’s publication, Stern, said the reporter’s death left him “speechless.”
“Our sympathy goes out to his relatives and those of the other journalists killed with him,” he said.