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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 16:35 GMT
Italian released in Afghanistan
Gabriele Torsello (photo - 23 October)
Gabriele Torsello was held captive for 23 days
An Italian photographer kidnapped in Afghanistan last month has been freed, the Italian defence ministry says.

Gabriele Torsello and his Afghan translator were seized three weeks ago while travelling on a bus near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

His kidnappers at one point offered to hand him over in return for an Afghan convert to Christianity, who had been granted in Italy.

It is not clear what has happened to the translator.

The news, which was first reported by the Peace Reporter website, followed rumours that Mr Torsello had been caught up in a shoot-out.

The website published a telephone interview with Mr Torsello in which he describes how his captors released him.

"They arrived and opened the door. One of them grabbed me and took me out without letting me put my shoes on and without blindfolding me, a thing that they always did," Mr Torsello told Peace Reporter.

"He pushed me hard. I had the chains - I couldn't follow him and I had to jump to be able to follow him. I thought they were going to kill me.

"But they put me in a car instead."

He told Peace Reporter how he was kept in chains in a windowless room during his captivity, living on a diet of potatoes and Afghan bread dipped in soup.

Mr Torsello, a Muslim convert, said: "On the first day I was always in chains, but at least I had a Koran and I could read it.

"Then they moved me, and after that I didn't have the Koran any more."

Found on road

Peace Reporter, a daily online newspaper with links to the Italian aid agency Emergency, which has been in contact with the kidnappers, said a phone call to a hospital run by the agency said Mr Torsello had been left on a road to Kandahar.

An Afghan member of Emergency's staff drove to the spot and found the Italian. Peace Reporter made no mention of his translator.

Mr Torsello later made an emotional call to his parents. They said it was the end of a "nightmare".

Last Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for his release, and footballers in Serie A and Serie B wore shirts which read "Liberate Gabriele Torsello".

The identity of the kidnappers is not clear. The Taleban have denied any involvement.

Kidnappings of Westerners are not uncommon in Afghanistan.

Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni was released in June last year after nearly a month in captivity. The Italian and Afghan governments denied newspaper reports that a ransom had been paid.

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