Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 17:56 UK

UK soldier dies in Afghan rescue

Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi
Stephen Farrell (left) and Sultan Munadi were held in Kunduz

A UK paratrooper has died in a raid to free a captive reporter in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

He was killed in a bid to rescue New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell. Journalist Sultan Munadi and two other Afghan civilians also died in the raid.

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

Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised the "breathtaking heroism" of those involved in the rescue operation.

The soldier's next of kin have been informed, the MoD said, and the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001 is now 213.

Flying bullets

In a separate incident, two British servicemen were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the entrance to Camp Bastion, the UK's main military base in Helmand province.

Service personnel killed in Afghanistain

In the rescue mission in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, Mr Munadi, a journalist working as an interpreter with Mr Farrell, also died along with two other Afghan civilians during a firefight between Nato forces and the Taliban.

Mr Farrell, 46, had travelled there to investigate an air strike last Friday on two hijacked fuel tankers when he was kidnapped.

The New York Times 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." Mr Farrell said he also called his wife.

BBC world affairs correspondent Chris Morris
Chris Morris, BBC News, Kabul
There is concern among the Afghan media community that Stephen Farrell was rescued unharmed, but Sultan Munadi was killed.

The head of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, Rahimullah Samandar, said the operation showed international forces did not care about Afghan journalists.

Now the Afghan Information Minister has called for an inquiry into the circumstances of Sultan Munadi's death.

In 2007 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 traveled with his colleague to Kunduz where they were kidnapped.

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

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

Mr Farrell said he ran outside with Mr Munadi, who the 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 father-of-two Mr Munadi advanced shouting: "Journalist! Journalist!" But the translator was shot and collapsed.

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

"Greatest of courage"

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

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

Mr Brown hailed the soldier who died for displaying the "greatest of courage", adding: "His bravery will not be forgotten."

Stephen Farrell

The prime minister said the operation had taken place "after extensive planning and consideration" but praised the heroism of those involved, who "knew the high risks they were running".

He also offered his condolences to Mr Munadi's family.

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."

This is the second time Mr 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.

Mr 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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