Journalist held by Taliban is rescued

 

A journalist with dual Irish and British citizenship who was held captive for four days by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan has been freed

New York Timesreporter Stephen Farrell and his Afghan colleague Mohammad Sultan Munadi were abducted last Saturday while attempting to visit the scene of a Nato air strike that killed scores of Afghans in the north of the country.

In an account published on the newspaper's website, Mr Farrell said he was freed by Nato forces during last night's raid, but Mr Munadi had been shot dead in front of him while they tried to run to safety.

"We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid," Mr Farrell said.

The two men ran outside, he said. "There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices."

Mr Farrell said his colleague went forward, shouting: "Journalist! Journalist!" but fell in a burst of gunfire. Mr Farrell did not know whether the shots came from insurgents or the rescuers.

"He was lying in the same position as he fell," Mr Farrell said. "That's all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He's dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped."

Abdul Waheed Omarkheil, district chief of Char Dara district in Kunduz province, said an Afghan woman was also killed during the raid in the house where the two men were being held.

A British commando was killed during the raid, Britain's Ministry of Defence confirmed this morning.

Mr Farrell’s abduction was not reported as kidnappings involving journalists are often the subject of a voluntary news blackout.

“He is now safe and well, receiving support from embassy staff and undergoing medical checks,” British prime minister Gordon Brown said today.

Although he was born in Britain, Mr Farrell also held an Irish passport, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

"We were closely involved in terms of contact and we were kept informed by British officials in the course of the kidnapping," she said.

However, Irish officials have no further involvement in the case.

The district was the site of last week's Nato air strike, called in by German forces, which killed scores of Afghans. The two men had gone to the area to report on the incident, in which Nato acknowledges civilians were killed.

The area is largely controlled by Taliban fighters, and Afghan police had advised Western journalists not to travel there because there was a strong chance they would be kidnapped.

Mohammad Nabi, a resident of the district, said Taliban fighters holding the two captives had stayed at his house last night after demanding shelter. He said Nato forces arrived by helicopter and killed his sister-in-law during their raid.

The troops left with Mr Farrell, but not his Afghan colleague, whose body was found outside the house in the morning, Mr Nabi said.

Freelance journalist Stephen Grey, author of Operation Snakebite,on the war in Afghanistan, said Mr Farrell is known for his dedication and fearlessness as a reporter.

“He was kidnapped near Fallujah but that did not put him off in the slightest. He continued to report from the frontline in Iraq," he said. "He is the sort of person who realises that you have to get out of your comfort zone beyond the wire in order to work out the truth.”

Mr Farrell was the second New York Timesjournalist kidnapped in Afghanistan in less than a year. David Rohde was held in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven months until June, when the newspaper says he escaped from captivity in Pakistan.

Agencies