Wave Of Targeted Killings Has Afghans Increasingly On Edge Journalist Fatima Roshanian has faced threats before, but she and many other Afghans say the risk to their lives is more serious than ever. "People are being killed everyday, everywhere," she says.

Amid A Wave Of Targeted Killings In Afghanistan, She's No. 11 On A Murder List

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has just landed in Afghanistan in an unannouced visit, a country experiencing a troubling trend. Assassins have been killing some of the country's most influential people - journalists, human rights activists, judicial workers and doctors. The killings began escalating last September, when the Afghan government started peace talks with the Taliban. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Fatima Roshanian rarely leaves her house. But it's not the pandemic keeping her home. It's the murders. Roshanian runs a feminist magazine, Nimrokh. It covers topics like sex, virginity, periods, marital affairs - shocking stuff by Afghan standards.

FATIMA ROSHANIAN: (Through interpreter) My name appeared on three different lists on social media.

HADID: These are lists of people marked for murder. She shows the list to NPR producer Khwaga Ghani in Kabul.

KHWAGA GHANI, BYLINE: (Non-English language spoken).

ROSHANIAN: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: On one list, she's No. 11. Roshanian's been threatened in the past, but this time, it's different. The U.N. estimates that more than 700 people have been murdered since September in targeted killings.

SHAHARZAD AKBAR: I think it has been unprecedented in terms of how many people have been killed in a short time period and how it hasn't stopped.

HADID: Shaharzad Akbar is the chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. She says in 40 years of war, she's never seen anything like the scope of these assassinations. They include a religious scholar gunned down in the street, a doctor killed in a targeted bomb blast, a prosecutor shot while going to work, a television presenter shot as she left work. Wahida Faizi is from the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee. She says it's become so bad that they flung up shelters for threatened journalists.

WAHIDA FAIZI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Faizi says they're also distributing bulletproof vests, and they're helping some of those threatened leave the country. It's not clear who was behind the carnage. Most of the murders have gone unclaimed. Western countries blame the Taliban, and many Afghans agree, like this feminist. She recently received a death threat, so she's asked that we not use her name. She says it's no coincidence the killings stepped up after Afghan peace talks began.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says the murders are a way for the Taliban to flex their muscle during the negotiations. See, this is what we can do. And it silences those who are most likely to disagree with their hard-line methods.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) They are targeting journalists and civil society, people who can raise their voice, people who can tell the international community what is happening. They want to shut them up.

HADID: The Taliban deny they're behind the killings. And Fatima Roshanian, who runs the women's magazine, thinks it's a bit more complicated. She thinks the death lists, like the ones she's appeared on, are being worked up by locals, conservatives, Taliban sympathizers and people with grudges. They're doxing for the Taliban.

ROSHANIAN: (Through interpreter) These lists tell the Taliban these are the people who are making trouble who are putting new thoughts in women's heads. They identify us so the Taliban can then kill us.

HADID: Some caution it might not just be the Taliban. One cleric who survived an assassination attempt says government intelligence officials are also targeting people. Others could be score settling. Akbar from the Human Rights Commission says regardless of who's behind the killings, the intention is clear.

AKBAR: It's a deliberate attempt to kill people or scare them away from the country. Unfortunately, it has worked.

HADID: Those who stay are shutting up. Some have quit their jobs. Roshanian, the feminist magazine editor, still works from home. But her friends are urging her to flee.

ROSHANIAN: (Through interpreter) They tell me the situation won't change with your writing and they'll kill you.

HADID: But she says if I go, who will be left to defend Afghanistan? Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

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