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Missing journalists found dead

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The bodies of four journalists missing and feared dead in Afghanistan have been recovered, CNN has confirmed.

The journalists were on the road between Jalalabad and Kabul Monday when their unguarded convoy was attacked. Militiamen found the bodies and brought them to a hospital in Jalalabad.

Three were formally identified. One of the journalists was Maria Grazia Cutuli who works for Corriere della Sera, a Milan, Italy, newspaper. The others were Harry Burton, an Australian television cameraman, and Azizullah Haidari, an Afghan-born photographer, both of whom worked for Reuters.

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Tributes mount for slain reporters 

The fourth journalist is Julio Fuentes, 42, of the Spanish daily El Mundo. Various sources -- including the Northern Alliance, the United Nations and other Spanish journalists -- confirmed his death, according to El Mundo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross received the bodies at the hospital. The journalists were brutally killed and the injuries they received reflect that.

It is still not known who committed the killings. A driver who escaped the attack said the assailants identified themselves as Taliban.

The region, however, is notorious for being frequented by bandits.

The bodies will be kept overnight and then taken in an ICRC convoy to Torkham, the border crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

Then the convoy will head through the Khyber Pass, on to Peshawar and then presumably to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Insecure road

The unarmed convoy will travel on a road considered to be quite insecure.

Journalists and ICRC officials will meet to discuss plans for news organization to pull out of Jalalabad, possibly coordinated to a degree with the ICRC.

But because the journalists will need to travel with an armed escort and the ICRC cannot, the links between the two convoys will have to be limited.

El Mundo's deputy editor Victor de la Serna told CNN that the newspaper is encouraging its staff to be careful in the region, but has no plans to pull them out of Afghanistan.

"It's always up to our veteran correspondents to make the final decision" on whether to leave, de la Serna said.

"We are really encouraging them to avoid the unnecessary danger. however unnecessary danger seems to be a very constant and common situation in Afghanistan right now."

The four journalists were part of a convoy headed from Jalalabad to Kabul. Hazarit Ali, the chief of law and order in Jalalabad, said the convoy was traveling without the customary armed guard.

Ashiq Quallan, a driver of one of the two vehicles in which the journalists were riding, said he saw a woman journalist and at least one man shot as he and another driver fled the scene.

Quallan said the convoy was nearing Babali Uba, about halfway between Jalalabad and Kabul, when armed men approached three cars that were ahead of the rest of the convoy.

Sped away

One car sped away, but Quallan said his car and another were stopped by the armed men.

He said the woman journalist and another man were in his car, along with a translator; two other journalists and a driver were in the second car.

Quallan said the gunmen pulled the occupants from the cars and began to throw stones at them. He and the other driver begged for their lives and fled, when he saw the gunmen shoot the woman and one man.

The drivers also heard gunfire from behind a large stone where the journalists were taken.

The drivers went back to the remaining vehicles in the convoy, which turned around and returned to Jalalabad.

Turned around

A search party sent to the area late Monday from Jalalabad turned around at dark, without reaching the scene of the shooting. But the commander of the force, sent by the chief of law and order in Jalalabad, said his men were told by people they met along the road that they had seen dead bodies in the area.

Northern Alliance officials claim control over the area, known as the Black Mountains. However, Quallan said the gunmen said there were still Taliban fighters in the area.

He said he did not know if the gunmen were Taliban or bandits.

A few hours later, another Afghan driver told CNN that he was in another convoy in the area that was stopped by eight armed men.

Gunmen fired at his vehicle as he and other drivers fled, and there were bullet holes visible in his car.

-- CNN Correspondent Bill Delaney contributed to this report.


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