The United States has decried the killing of journalists in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan and accused the militants of trying to undermine the country's upcoming elections by attacking the "cornerstone of democracy."
"We strongly condemn yesterday's suicide bombing in Kabul," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on May 1.
"Afghanistan's press corps is a powerful illustration of how that country has transformed," Sanders said. "There is absolutely no justification for such a senseless and heinous act."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter called the twin suicide attacks that killed at least 25 people including nine journalists in Kabul on April 30 "senseless and barbaric."
"Independent media is a cornerstone of democracy," he said. "Despite today's attack, the vibrant media landscape that has developed in Afghanistan will endure."
Pompeo added that "we will not turn blind on this." The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed the most media workers ever in a single attack in Afghanistan.
The twin blasts came little more than a week after an April 22 suicide blast claimed by IS that killed 60 people at a voter registration center in Kabul.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the attacks were aimed at undermining Afghanistan's electoral process ahead of parliamentary elections in October.
Mattis on May 1 told reporters at the Pentagon that the United States will stand by the Afghan people and the Kabul government.
"The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for, and more importantly what we stand against," he said.
"We'll stand by the Afghan people, we'll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement," Mattis said
The killings occurred when multiple journalists covering a suicide bombing in the Shash Darak area of Kabul were hit by a second blast set off by a suicide bomber carrying a press pass and pretending to be a reporter, officials said.
Among those killed were two RFE/RL journalists, a woman training to become an RFE/RL reporter, and AFP's chief photographer in Kabul. The other journalists killed were working for Afghan media.
"Where media are in danger, all other human rights are under greater threat," the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "outraged."
"The deliberate targeting of journalists in the attack highlights once again the risks media professionals face in carrying out their essential work," the UN chief said through a spokesman.
"Those responsible for such crimes must be swiftly brought to justice," Guterres added.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also called it "an attack on democracy and an effort to silence the voice of the voiceless," while President Ashraf Ghani called it an example of "war crimes."
A BBC Afghan reporter was killed separately on April 30 in Khost Province on the border with Pakistan.
"Actions like this one only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan," said General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"This tragedy reminds us of the danger that our teams continually face on the ground and the essential role journalists play for democracy," AFP chief executive Fabrice Fries said.
Afghanistan was already considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with at least 20 killed last year. Last week, unidentified gunmen shot a journalist in the southern city of Kandahar.