Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 15:57 UK

Four die in Afghan rescue mission

Stephen Farrell
"There were bullets all around us," Mr Farrell said

Nato soldiers have rescued a kidnapped UK journalist from the Taliban in a dramatic pre-dawn helicopter mission in Afghanistan that left four others dead.

New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell was freed unhurt. His Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi was killed along with a UK soldier and two Afghan civilians.

Mr Farrell, who holds British and Irish nationality, was "extracted" by "a lot of soldiers", the New York Times said.

The pair were seized in northern Kunduz province on Saturday.

They were investigating a Nato air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers that left many dead.

There were bullets all around us, I could hear British and Afghan voices
Stephen Farrell

It is not the first time Mr Farrell has been abducted on assignment - in 2004 he was briefly kidnapped in Iraq while working for the London Times newspaper.

In remarks quoted on the New York Times website, Mr Farrell said the Taliban tried to flee as the helicopters descended.

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

The reporter told his newspaper he ran outside with Mr Munadi, reportedly a 34-year-old father-of-two who worked as an interpreter with Mr Farrell.

He said Mr Munadi had shouted "Journalist! Journalist!" before he fell to the ground in a hail of bullets.

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

Afghan police inspect the car from which Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi were kidnapped

"I dived in a ditch," Mr Farrell told his newspaper. Moments later he heard British voices and shouted: "British hostage!"

The voices told him to come over and as he did, he said he saw Mr Munadi's body.

Journalists' anger

The head of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, Rahimullah Samandar, told the BBC that the raid showed international forces did not care about Afghan reporters.

Mr Samandar said it was not the first time a kidnapped Afghan journalist had been killed while a Western colleague was freed.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, said the newspaper was "overjoyed" at Mr Farrell's release, but "deeply saddened it came at such a cost".

Chris Morris
Chris Morris, BBC News, Afghanistan

There is concern among the Afghan media community that Stephen Farrell was rescued unharmed but Sultan Munadi was killed.

Now the Afghan information minister has called for an inquiry into the circumstances of Mr Munadi's death.

Two years ago, an Italian journalist was released from captivity, but his Afghan colleague, Ajmal Naqshbandi, was beheaded by the Taliban after the Afghan government refused to release Taliban prisoners in exchange.

The international media rely heavily on Afghan journalists to cover areas of the country which are too dangerous for foreigners to visit. But in this most recent case, of course, Stephen Farrell had travelled with his colleague to Kunduz where they were kidnapped.

Reports differ on who else died in the raid, but a local governor told the BBC two civilians were killed.

A resident of Char Dara district in Kunduz province, Mohammad Nabi, reportedly said it was his home that was raided, and that his brother's wife was killed.

The Taliban had turned up there on Tuesday night with their two captives, demanding shelter, Mr Nabi told Reuters.

He said helicopters swooped later and "then the soldiers blew open the door of my house, killing my sister-in-law, and took the reporter away with them".

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the soldier killed in the British-led operation had acted with "the greatest of courage".

He said his thoughts were with the family of the soldier and also with Mr Munadi's loved ones.

Mr Munadi had briefly returned to Afghanistan while studying for a masters degree in Germany.

In an article published by the New York Times, he wrote of his desire to return to Afghanistan.

I want to work for the education of the country
Sultan Munadi

"If I leave this country, if other people like me leave this country, who will come to Afghanistan? Will it be the Taliban who come to govern this country?

"That is why I want to come back, even if it means cleaning the streets of Kabul. That would be a better job for me, rather than working, for example, in a restaurant in Germany," he said.

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

In June, Pulitzer Prize-winner David Rohde and an Afghan colleague were abducted in Kabul and taken to Pakistan, where they escaped.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific