Commandos free abducted reporter in Afghanistan

New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell was abducted Saturday while covering a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan.
A New York Times reporter who was kidnapped last week was freed by commandos Wednesday.

Stephen Farrell was rescued in a pre-dawn raid conducted by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the British Foreign Office said. Farrell, along with a driver and translator, were kidnapped Saturday while covering a NATO airstrike on Taliban forces in the northern Kunduz province that killed at least 90 people. The British Foreign Office would confirm only that one hostage had been rescued. Neither CNN nor the Times had previously reported Farrell’s kidnapping for security reasons. “We feared that media attention would raise the temperature and increase the risk to the captives,” the paper quoted its executive editor, Bill Keller, as saying Wednesday. In a report posted on its Web site, the Times said Farrell called the newspaper’s foreign editor before dawn and said he was “extracted” in a commando raid after a fierce firefight.

“There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices,” Farrell, a 46-year-old dual Irish-British citizen, told the paper. Ten weeks earlier, another Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban escaped after months in custody. David Rohde, a local reporter and their driver were kidnapped outside Kabul on November 10. The two reporters escaped on June 19 by climbing over a wall in the compound where they were held for seven months in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. Their driver did not escape, the newspaper said. The death toll in the Kunduz airstrike, which Farrell was covering when he was kidnapped, has varied, depending on the source, but local Afghan officials have said at least half of those killed were civilians. The NATO commander in the area called in the strike Friday as Afghans tried to siphon fuel from two tankers hijacked by the Taliban a day earlier. The Taliban allowed villagers to drain the tankers carrying fuel earmarked for ISAF after they became stuck in the mud when the militants tried to drive them through the Kunduz River. The military thought there were no civilians near the trucks at the time of the attack, ISAF Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said Friday. Farrell, who joined The New York Times two years ago, was kidnapped in April 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq. At the time, he was on assignment for The Times of London. “I was driving from Amman to Baghdad in an armored car and a lory full of guys with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades just slowed in front of the car, sprayed us with bullets, dragged us out and took us off to a house somewhere near Fallujah, and after a little bit of violence they just bombarded us with questions for about 10 hours before finally accepting we were journalists and letting us go,” he told CNN two years after the incident.