British Commandos free NYT reporter

Stephen Farrell, a reporter for The New York Times is shown in Iraq on July 16, 2007. Commandos freed him on Wednesday after he was kidnapped in northern Afghanistan last week, the paper said. AP

Gunmen seized reporter Stephen Farrell and interpreter Sultan Munadi in the northern province of Kunduz on Saturday, the Times reported. Farrell had traveled 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 US 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 Farrell wanted to interview villagers.

Military officials say one British commando was killed in raid to free the kidnapped reporter.
The Times kept the kidnapping quiet out of concern for the men's safety, and other media outlets, including AP, followed suit at the Times' request. A story posted on the Times' Website quoted Farrell saying he had been "extracted" by a commando raid carried out by "a lot of soldiers" in a firefight.

Mohammad Sami Yowar, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor, said British Special Forces dropped down from helicopters on Wednesday onto the house where the two were being kept, and a gunbattle ensued.

A Taliban commander who was in the house was killed, along with the owner of the house and a woman who was inside, Yowar said. He said Sultan was killed in the midst of the firefight.

Farrell told the Times that he saw Munadi step forward shouting "Journalist! Journalist!" but he then fell in a volley of bullets. Farrell said he did not know if the shots came from militants or the rescuing forces.

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 for 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 Farrell to Kunduz on a freelance basis. He was married and had two young sons.

US military spokeswoman Lt Cmdr Christine Sidenstricker confirmed the operation by NATO and  Afghan forces, but did not provide further details. Farrell was the second Times journalist to be kidnapped 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 northwestern Pakistan. They had been abducted November 10 south of the Afghan capital of Kabul and were moved across the border.

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