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3 journalists killed in Taliban attack

Two French radio reporters and a German magazine journalist were killed when they came under Taliban fire while traveling with Northern Alliance forces, their employers and colleagues said Monday.

The journalists were identified as Johanne Sutton, 34, of Radio France Internationale; Pierre Billaud, 31, of RTL Radio; and Volker Handloik, 40, a freelance reporter for Stern magazine in Berlin.

The three apparently were riding on top of an armored vehicle when it was attacked with machine guns and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. They are thought to be the first foreign journalists killed in Afghanistan since American airstrikes in support of the Northern Alliance began Oct. 7.

A French journalist who survived the attack said on French radio Monday that the journalists had never imagined they were in any danger. They had set off with alliance soldiers to inspect an area reportedly free of the Taliban.

"It all happened very quickly," said the journalist, Veronique Reyberotte of France Culture Radio. "We heard many bursts of gunfire. The tank braked sharply, and as a result people either fell off or jumped off. It was pitch black. They jumped off the tank, especially Johanne and Pierre." Reyberotte said the vehicle then sped away.

Another journalist in the group, Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia, managed to cling to the vehicle during the attack, even as it sped away, "careening up and down incredible slopes until it became clear to everyone that the driver was lost," he said.

McGeough said that "with Taliban tracer fire arching over their heads," scouts sent on ahead managed to find a route back to a camp site near the Kotcha River.

"The alliance had been fighting for this ridge for days," McGeough said in a telephone interview. "They had it. They lost it. And then they got it back. And they were perhaps a bit cockier than they should have been. We took the calculated gamble to go along for the ride. But the whole thing was perhaps a bit foolhardy on the part of the alliance."

McGeough said he had returned with the soldiers to pick up two of the bodies on Monday. Sutton's body had been returned earlier. McGeough said it was clear that Handloik had died instantly.

"It was clear to me at least, that what I thought was a soldierly leap from the vehicle was not that at all," said McGeough. "He had a bullet wound in the head."

_ Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

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