Wednesday, September 09, 2009


A UK journalist abducted in Afghanistan has been freed by Nato troops in a dramatic pre-dawn raid.

New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped on Saturday along with Afghan interpreter Sultan Munadi while investigating a Nato air strike.

Mr Munadi - a father of two - was killed during the rescue operation.

Farrell, who holds dual British-Irish nationality, said he was "extracted" by "a lot of soldiers" after a fierce firefight, the New York Times reports.

Farrell, 46, had travelled to Kunduz in northern Afghanistan to investigate an air strike last Friday on two hijacked fuel tankers, in which dozens of civilians reportedly died.

The newspaper's website reported he phoned the foreign editor of the newspaper at about 0030 BST (2330 GMT) on Wednesday and said: "I'm out! I'm free." Farrell said he also called his wife.

Some reports from Afghanistan suggest that British special forces were involved in the rescue.

But a UK defence ministry spokeswoman told the BBC: "It was a Nato operation, we do not comment on special forces."

It is not the first time Farrell has been abducted while on assignment - in 2004 he was kidnapped in the Iraqi city of Falluja while working for the London Times newspaper.

In a telephone call to his newspaper, he said he and his captors had heard helicopters approach before the dramatic rescue.

"We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid," Farrell told the New York Times. "We thought they would kill us. We thought should we go out."

The reporter said he ran outside with his interpreter, who AFP news agency reports was a 34-year-old man working in Afghanistan while on a break from university studies in Germany.

"There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices," he continued.

The correspondent said Mr Munadi advanced shouting: "Journalist! Journalist!" But the translator was shot and collapsed.

Farrell said he did not know whether the shots had been fired by militants or their rescuers.

He said he dived into a ditch and after a minute or two, shouted: "British hostage!"

Farrell then heard British voices telling him to come over and as he did, saw the body of Mr Munadi.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, said: "We're overjoyed that Steve is free, but deeply saddened that his freedom came at such a cost."

Farrell is the second New York Times journalist to be kidnapped in Afghanistan in a year.

In June, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Rohde and his Afghan colleague were abducted in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and moved across the border to Pakistan from where they escaped.




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