KABUL, Afghanistan — British commandos on Wednesday freed a New York Times reporter who'd been taken captive by insurgents, but the reporter's Afghan interpreter and a British soldier died in the pre-dawn raid, NATO officials and the interpreter's family said.
Reporter Stephen Farrell and interpreter Sultan Munadi were taken captive last Friday as they interviewed villagers in Kunduz province in the aftermath of a NATO airstrike that caused dozens of deaths in the area. At the newspaper's request, most news media, including McClatchy, didn't report the kidnapping when it occurred.
In a statement Wednesday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan confirmed the raid and said that a NATO soldier also died during the firefight. A public affairs officer had no information on other casualties.
The New York Times said in a report on its Web site that it had no advance knowledge of the raid. The newspaper's staff in Kabul had been hopeful before the raid that negotiation efforts would succeed, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Munadi also had appeared hopeful of regaining his freedom. On Tuesday night. hours before the raid, Munadi called home to Kabul, family members told McClatchy. He said he was OK and that he thought that he and Farrell would be released in several days, according to interviews Wednesday with family members, who said he'd called at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Then, in the darkness Wednesday morning, British commandos attacked the Kunduz compound where the two men were being held.
The newspaper reported that Munadi died as he tried to flee the compound. It quoted Farrell as saying that Munadi went forward shouting, "Journalist! Journalist!" but then dropped in a "hail of bullets."
Farrell is a veteran journalist with a British passport who previously worked for The Times of London, and had reported extensively in the Middle East and Asia.
Munadi was married and had two young children, according to family members. He'd been studying in Germany, and planned to return there to resume his studies after a late-summer stint as a New York Times interpreter, a position he'd held in the past.
In keeping with the Muslim tradition of swift burial, Munadi's family brought his body back to Kabul on Wednesday, where dozens of cars formed a motorcade to his family home in the northern part of the city.
The story that drew Farrell and Munadi to northern Afghanistan's Kunduz province broke early Friday with news of a pre-dawn airstrike on two hijacked fuel tankers. There were dozens of deaths, but initial reports were sketchy about how many civilians may have perished.
Kunduz was relatively stable in the years after the fall of the Taliban. Over the past year, however, the insurgency has become much more active there, and that's increased the risks for journalists.
Kunduz Gov. Mohammad Omar said last week that the area where the bombing had taken place had a strong Taliban presence. Tensions in the area increased after the bombing as dozens of bodies were retrieved for burial.
Farrell is the second New York Times reporter to be kidnapped in Afghanistan within the past year. Journalist David Rohde was taken hostage outside Kabul, then transferred to Pakistan. Rohde escaped in June — some seven months after he was kidnapped — along with an Afghan reporter from a compound where he'd been confined.
The difficulties facing journalists have increased in recent years as the Taliban insurgency spreads through much of Afghanistan. Foreign journalists routinely hire Afghans to assist in interpreting and reporting the news.
For Afghans, Munadi's death was a disturbing reminder of another Afghan journalist who died in the aftermath of a kidnapping.
Two years ago, insurgents captured Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo along with Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi. Negotiations resulted in Mastrogiacomo's release, but Naqshbandi was beheaded. The failure to obtain his freedom sparked anger among many Afghans.
(Bernton reports for The Seattle Times. Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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