Updated: 03/21/2014 20:56 | By Agence France-Presse

Sardar Ahmad, charming and versatile AFP journalist

Shocked colleagues of Sardar Ahmad, the senior reporter in AFP's Kabul bureau, Friday mourned the loss of a charming and talented journalist equally at ease covering Afghanistan's wrenching conflict as with colourful tales – including a lion who lived on a roof.


Sardar Ahmad, charming and versatile AFP journalist

In this picture taken on March 20, 2014, Sardar Ahmad poses for a photo at the AFP office in Kabul hours before he was killed when four teenage gunmen attacked a luxury hotel in Kabul - by Wakil Kohsar

Ahmad, 40, was shot dead along with his wife Humaira and two of their three children -- a girl and boy -- when gunmen attacked the Serena hotel in the Afghan capital on Thursday evening.

An AFP staff photographer identified the four bodies at a city hospital on Friday, and said the family's infant son was undergoing emergency treatment after suffering serious wounds.

"This is an immensely painful and enormous loss for Agence France-Presse," AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog said. 

He described Ahmad as a "dedicated and courageous journalist, a cornerstone of our team in Afghanistan who delivered, every day, exceptional coverage of the news in extremely difficult conditions".

Four teenage gunmen with pistols hidden in their socks managed to penetrate several layers of security to attack the luxury hotel on the eve of Nawroz, the Persian New Year which is a major holiday in Afghanistan.

The Serena attack was claimed by the Taliban, who have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 election that will decide a successor to President Hamid Karzai.

Hired in 2003 to cover daily briefings by the US-led coalition at Bagram airbase, two years after the invasion that drove out the Taliban regime, Ahmad went on to cover all aspects of life, war and politics in his native country.

He was known among his colleagues for his wit, charm and ebullience. His time covering the briefings at Bagram allowed him to achieve an impressive level of fluency in English -- and a distinctive American accent.

- 'Beloved' -

Ahmad was a specialist in security issues, with strong contacts on both the government and Taliban sides, allowing him to file balanced stories on the complex conflict wracking Afghanistan.

"Sardar was one of our best journalists in Afghanistan and a beloved member of our team," Gilles Campion, AFP's Asia-Pacific regional director, said.

"During the 11 years he spent with AFP in Kabul, he always exercised immense courage and objectivity when reporting, despite the risks faced by journalists in that country."

Ahmad was a versatile reporter with an eye for unexpected stories that opened a window on life in Afghanistan away from the bombs and blast walls.

His last feature for AFP, filed on Tuesday, was about a lion called Marjan, who was rescued by animal welfare officials from living on a rooftop in Kabul. That was a follow-up to a story Ahmad himself broke last year, generating headlines around the world. 

He wrote in the feature: "Marjan is named after a famous half-blind lion who lived at Kabul zoo and became a symbol of Afghanistan's national survival after living through coups, invasions, civil war and the hardline Taliban era before dying in 2002."

Ahmad's second-last story, the day before, covered a threat by the Taliban to attack polling staff, voters and security forces ahead of the April 5 election.

Outside AFP, Ahmad showed his entrepreneurial bent by founding Kabul Pressistan, a successful local news agency that has provided fixing and translation services for numerous foreign reporters coming to Kabul.

Phil Chetwynd, the editor-in-chief of AFP, said his death was an "unspeakable tragedy".

"Sardar was not only among the very finest journalists in Afghanistan, but also a wonderfully optimistic and engaging personality," Chetwynd said.

"He has been the pillar of our bureau for the past decade and a great friend to many AFP colleagues. He was also a tremendously proud father and husband."

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