NATO troops free kidnapped NY Times reporter
(For more on Afghanistan, click [ID:nAFPAK])
* Commandos free British reporter, Afghan colleague killed
* Journalists kidnapped last week near scene of air strike
* Second NY Times reporter captured in less than a year
By Mohammed Hamed
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan, Sept 9 (Reuters) - NATO troops released a kidnapped British reporter for the New York Times in northern Afghanistan in a commando raid before dawn on Wednesday, but his Afghan colleague was killed.
British reporter Stephen Farrell and his Afghan colleague Mohammad Sultan Munadi had been abducted 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, Farrell said he was freed by commandos during the raid, but 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," Farrell said.
The two men ran outside, he said. "There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices."
Farrell said Munadi went forward, shouting: "Journalist! Journalist!" but dropped in a burst of gunfire. Farrell did not know whether the shots came from insurgents or the rescuers.
"He was lying in the same position as he fell," 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."
Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times, said: "We're overjoyed that Steve is free, but deeply saddened that his freedom came at such a cost. We are doing all we can to learn the details of what happened. Our hearts go out to Sultan's family."
BODY FOUND OUTSIDE
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.
The district was the site of last week's NATO air strike, called in by German forces, which killed scores of Afghans. Farrell and Munadi 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 Tuesday night after demanding shelter. He said NATO forces arrived by helicopter and killed his sister-in-law during their raid.
The troops left with Farrell, but not his Afghan colleague, whose body was found outside the house in the morning, Nabi told Reuters.
"Last night, a group of Taliban in two vehicles came to my house saying they needed shelter. We took them to our guest house. There was a foreign journalist and an Afghan translator with them," Nabi said.
"At midnight, U.S. helicopters came, dropping off soldiers. A clash broke out and then the soldiers blew open the door of my house, killing my sister-in-law, and took the reporter away with them."
Farrell was the second New York Times journalist 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.
As in Rohde's case, Reuters and other Western news organisations refrained from reporting the capture of Farrell at the request of the newspaper, which believed that would improve his safety. (Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in KABUL, Chris Michaud in NEW YORK; writing by Peter Graff in KABUL; editing by Ron Popeski) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)
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