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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 17:36 GMT
Taleban 'seize Italian reporter'
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The Taleban say they have kidnapped an Italian journalist and two Afghan nationals in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

A source close to a regional Taleban commander told the BBC that the three men were seized after entering an area of Helmand without permission.

He accused them of spying and said they were being detained at a Taleban base.

The Italian, who the Taleban initially said was British, is reportedly working for Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

Reports of the abductions emerged as Nato and Afghan forces launched what they said was their biggest joint offensive against the Taleban in the south of the country.

The operation is centred on Helmand, a known stronghold of the Taleban.

Mullah Dadullah

The three men were detained in Nad Ali in Helmand, one of the main opium poppy areas, because they had entered the district without permission, a local Taleban spokesman said.

A car, satellite phones and cameras had also been taken and the men were being questioned at a Taleban base, he said.

He said they were in the custody of the regional commander, Mullah Dadullah.

The Taleban had initially named the journalist as John Nichol and said he was British, but La Repubblica newspaper said their reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo was missing, the BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul says.

The two Afghans were named as Ajmal and Syed Agha.

Both are known as translators who work with western journalists, and they have been reported missing.

An Italian photographer was kidnapped in Helmand last October and held for three weeks before being released unharmed, our correspondent says.


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