Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus and reporter Kathy Gannon were in Khost in eastern Afghanistan covering the run-up to the presidential elections when an Afghan policeman approached their vehicle at a security checkpoint. “[He] yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47,” the Associated Press reports. “He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested.”
Gannon survived the attack but was wounded twice and is now being treated in a local hospital.
In a statement to his staff, Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of AP, said: “It is with grief and great sadness that I let you know that photographer Anja Niedringhaus has been killed while working in Afghanistan […] Those of you who worked with Anja know what a life force she was: spirited, intrepid and fearless, with a raucous laugh that we will always remember.”
AP’s vice president and director of photography Santiago Lyon, who has known and worked with Anja for 22 years, adds: “Anja was one of the most talented, bravest and accomplished photojournalists of her generation. Her storytelling skill with a camera was extraordinarily effective, a reflection of her own open gaze and genuine compassion for her subjects. Her enthusiasm and good cheer were infectious, even in the darkest of circumstances. She consistently volunteered for the hardest assignments and was remarkably resilient in carrying them out time after time. She truly believed in the need to bear witness.”
Born on 12 October 1965, Niedringhaus picked up photography at the age of 16. “While in university, Niedringhaus continued to freelance as a photographer for various newspapers and magazines,” reads her website. “Among the events she covered was the Fall of the Berlin Wall which led to a staff position as photographer for the European Press Photo Agency, EPA in Frankfurt, in 1990.” She covered the wars in former Yugoslavia. In 2001, she covered the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan before joining AP a year later. “[She] worked throughout the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan,” says Pruitt. “She was one of a team of 11 AP photographers, and the only woman, to win the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq. That same year, she was awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award.”
In 2006, she was awarded a Neiman fellowship to Harvard University, where she studied culture, history, religion and the issues of gender in the Middle East and their impact on the development of foreign policy in the United States and other Western countries.
For Niedringhaus, covering conflict and war was the essence of journalism, she once wrote. “My assignment, regardless of the era, is about people—civilians and soldiers. The legacy of any photographer is her or his ability to capture the moment, to record history. For me it is about showing the struggle and survival of the individual.”
Niedringhaus is the 32nd AP staffer to die “in pursuit of the news” since 1846. “Where once reporters and photographers were seen as the impartial eyes and ears of crucial information, today they are often targets,” said Pruitt. “AP takes the security of its staff very seriously, equipping them with protective gear and intensive training. Yet even that is sometimes not enough. This is a profession of the brave and the passionate, those committed to the mission of bringing to the world information that is fair, accurate and important. Anja Niedringhaus met that definition in every way. We will miss her terribly.”