The four were reported missing yesterday after six men with automatic weapons approached their cars and forced the journalists out on foot toward nearby hills.
Shortly afterward, their drivers say they heard bursts of automatic weapons fire.
“They took the journalists [up the mountain], and when the journalists turned to look at them, the gunmen shot,” driver Mohammed Farrad told the Associated Press.
The journalists had been traveling in a caravan of eight vehicles on a road from Jalalabad toward Kabul. The convoy’s remaining cars quickly headed back to Jalalabad.
Among those killed were Italian journalist Maria Grazia Cutuli of Corriere della Sera, Spanish journalist Julio Fuentes of El Mundo and two Reuters staffers — Australian television cameraman Harry Burton and Afghan-born photographer Azizullah Haidari.
The journalists’ bodies were transported to Jalalabad this morning and identified by colleagues.
“That their deaths are cruel, senseless, a terrible waste, goes without saying,” Geert Linnebank, Reuters’ editor-in-chief, said. “But their deaths also make us angry, outraged at what appears to be yet more cold-blooded executions of journalists going about their work.”
The province of Nangarhar, where the group was traveling, was among the areas recently captured by anti-Taliban forces, but soldiers still loyal to the Taliban or Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden are believed to be in the area.
Authorities from the new anti-Taliban administration sent troops to recover the bodies. It is still not known exactly who the attackers were or if they had any group affiliation.
The deaths come a week after three other European journalists — Johanne Sutton of Radio France Internationale, Pierre Billaud of France’s RTL Radio and Volker Handloik a freelance reporter for the Berlin-based Stern newsmagazine — were killed in a Taliban ambush on opposition forces. The three were killed while riding on the roof of a Northern Alliance armored personnel carrier toward the town of Taloqan.
Several groups of journalists have traveled on the road from Jalalabad to Kabul in recent days. One group of Filipino reporters told Reuters they had been held up and robbed on the road yesterday.