World News

NATO troops free kidnapped NY Times reporter

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - NATO troops freed a kidnapped British reporter for the New York Times in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, but his Afghan colleague, a British soldier and at least one civilian were killed in the rescue.

Stephen Farrell, British reporter for the New York Times, films a wounded Afghan man in a hospital in Kunduz September 4, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

New York Times reporters Stephen Farrell and Mohammad Sultan Munadi were 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 was 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.”

The British Ministry of Defense said a British soldier had also been killed in the raid and his family had been notified of his death. It gave no further details.


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, owner of the house that was raided, said Taliban fighters holding the two captives had stayed at his home Tuesday night after demanding shelter. He said NATO forces arrived by helicopter and killed his sister-in-law in the 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 organizations refrained from reporting the capture of Farrell and Munadi at the request of the newspaper, which believed that would improve the safety of the reporters.

(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in KABUL, Chris Michaud in NEW YORK and Avril Ormsby in London; writing by Peter Graff in KABUL; Editing by Nick Macfie)

For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here