Commandos freed a New York Times reporter early Wednesday from Taliban captives who abducted him over the weekend in northern Afghanistan, but his interpreter was killed in the raid, the paper and officials said.
Gunmen seized reporter Stephen Farrell and interpreter Sultan Munadi in the northern province of Kunduz on Saturday, the New York Times reported. Mr. Farrell had travelled to Kunduz to investigate reports of civilian deaths in a German-ordered NATO airstrike on two hijacked fuel tankers.
Afghan officials at the time said about 70 people died when U.S. jets dropped two bombs on the tankers, igniting them in a massive explosion. There were reports that villagers who had come to collect fuel from the tankers were among the dead, and Mr. Farrell wanted to interview villagers.
The New York Times kept the abduction quiet out of concern for the men’s safety, and other media outlets, including The Associated Press, followed suit at the newspaper's request.
A story posted on the New York Times’ web site quoted Mr. Farrell as saying he had been “extracted” by a commando raid carried out by “a lot of soldiers” in a fire fight.
Mohammad Sami Yowar, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor, said British Special Forces dropped down from helicopters early on Wednesday onto the house where the two were being kept, and a gun battle ensued.
A Taliban commander who was in the house was killed, along with the owner of the house and a woman who was inside, Mr. Yowar said. He said the interpreter, Mr. Munadi, was killed in the midst of the fire fight.
Mr. Farrell told the New York Times that he saw Mr. Munadi step forward shouting “Journalist! Journalist!” but he then fell in a volley of bullets. Mr. Farrell said he did not know if the shots came from militants or the rescuing forces.
Mr. Munadi, in his early 30s, was employed by The New York Times starting in 2002, according to his colleagues. He left the company a few years later to work for a local radio station.
He left Afghanistan last year to study a master’s degree in Germany. He came back to Kabul last month for a holiday and to see his family, and agreed to accompany Mr. Farrell to Kunduz on a freelance basis. He was married and had two young sons.
U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker confirmed the operation by NATO and Afghan forces, but did not provide further details.
Mr. Farrell, 46, is a dual British—Irish national who joined the New York Times in 2007 in Baghdad. He has covered both the Afghan and Iraq conflicts for the paper. He told the paper that he was not hurt in the rescue operation.
Mr. Farrell was the second New York Times journalist to be abducted in Afghanistan in a year.
In June, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, David Rohde, and his Afghan colleague, Tahir Ludin, escaped from their Taliban captors in north-western Pakistan. They had been abducted on November 10 south of the Afghan capital of Kabul and were moved across the border.
Keywords: Times scribe Afghanistan freedom