New York Times reporter rescued in Afghanistan

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

This past week, British Commandos saved a British journalist, Stephen Farrell from what could have been a very dangerous situation as he had been abducted by Taliban insurgents in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan last weekend. During the raid, one of the rescuers and the journalist's translator were killed in addition to about three others according to conflicting reports.

Kunduz Province, Afghanistan in 2005
Image: M. Michael.

Farrell, a journalist from The New York Times and dual British-Irish citizen, and his Afghan interpreter, Sultan Munadi, were taken captive by the Taliban while covering a September 4th bombing by coalition aircraft not far from Konduz City, Afghanistan. A local Afghan reported that while Farrell was interviewing individuals that witnessed the bombing, he received a warning from another Afghan that he should leave the area. Soon after, gun-shots were heard and the Taliban was said to be approaching. Reportedly, police warned journalists covering the strike that insurgents controlled the area surrounding the tanker and that they should take precautions for their personal safety.

Cquote1.svg "We feared that media attention would raise the temperature and increase the risk to the captives." Cquote2.svg

—NY Times Executive Editor Bill Keller

When Farrell was taken, few major news outlets reported his capture for security reasons. NY Times Executive Editor Bill Keller earlier said "We feared that media attention would raise the temperature and increase the risk to the captives."

According to Farrell, while he was treated well — given food, water, and other provisions — his captors taunted Munadi. During their captivity, Farrell commented that his captors would drive within 1500 feet of NATO and Afghan outposts with weapons displayed to prove their daring. Six to eight guards took turns monitoring the captives.

Farrell is the second NY Times journalist to be taken captive in Afghanistan in less than a year. In November 2008, reporter David S. Rohde and his colleague Tahir Ludin were taken captive south of Kabul and moved to Pakistan before they managed to escape in June of this year. Farrell was also kidnapped in April 2004 while on-assignment in Fallujah, Iraq.

Kidnappings are done for ideological reasons by some Taliban members but are also conducted by local insurgents for ransom. At least 16 journalists have been kidnapped since the beginning of the Afghan war.

Cquote1.svg "The tragedy that took place this morning in northern Afghanistan raises many questions." Cquote2.svg

Reporters Without Borders

According to Keller, the possibility had arisen that Farrell and Munadi would be moved, possibly to Pakistan, which may have caused the military to act much sooner. On the morning of September 9th, Mohammad Sami Yowar, a spokesman for the Konduz Governor's Office, briefed that British Commandos conducted a helicopter assault on the house in which the captives were held and subsequently a gun-battle erupted. A Taliban commander inside the house where Farrell and Munadi were being held was reportedly killed during the raid. Munadi was killed during the firefight and British officials said that they could not rule out the possibility he was killed by one of the Commandos. The Konduz Governor, Abdel Wahid Omar Khil, indicated that a woman and child probably caught in the crossfire were also killed during the raid. Farrell indicated that he was not harmed.

Reporters Without Borders has called for an investigation of the Munadi killing stating that "The tragedy that took place this morning in northern Afghanistan raises many questions." U.S. military officials confirmed the raid was carried out by NATO and Afghan soldiers; no further details were provided.

Sources

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