London freelance held hostage

Gunmen have kidnapped a London-based freelance as he made his way on an assignment through southern Afghanistan.

Italian photo journalist Gabriele Torsello was pulled from a bus on Thursday, as he journeyed from the notorious Helmand province to the neighbouring area of Kandahar.

Mr Torsello was apparently able to phone a security official to ask that his captors learn of his “good intentions” in the region.

According news wire reports, he also wanted them to be told of his conversion to Islam, evidenced in part by his growth of a full-length facial beard.

So far this information has proved ineffective in securing his release, amid ever growing fears for his safety.

The independent Afghan news agency Pajhwok claims one reporter who called Mr Torsello’s mobile phone had it answered to a man who said: “We are the Taliban and we have kidnapped the foreign spy.”

However Reuters reports that the Taliban has denied any role in the journalist’s abduction.

Problematically for groups demanding Torsello’s immediate release, officials in Kabul initially denied that any Italian journalist had been seized.

The Italian Foreign Ministry has disagreed, telling Reuters last night that “all the elements” of the freelancer’s disappearance suggest he has been abducted.

Settling the dispute, the Italian newspaper PeaceReporter, which reports on global conflict zones, says their freelance correspondent, Gabriele Torsello, phoned a hospital on Saturday to confirm he was now a hostage.

The online paper is showcasing a sample of vivid images Mr Torsello has captured through his time living and working as a freelance photojournalist in the war-torn region.

On its front-page yesterday, the paper reported that the kidnappers have made contact: they claimed Mr Torsello was “fine” and added a statement would follow stating the conditions for his release.

Mr Torsello’s role as a freelance enabled him to break away from ‘press pack’ coverage, to reveal the ‘untold’ stories of ever-day Afghanis at the heart of the conflict.

Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders is calling for his speedy release: “He is not a spy or a bargaining chip, but a courageous journalist who has lived among the Afghan people for several months.”

The Paris-based group also reminded that Mullah Dadullah, a Taliban fighter, threatened in September to kill journalists who published news sourced on briefings from NATO forces in Afghanistan.

“We have an Islamic right to kill such reporters,” he said at the time.

Mr Torsello, who has worked as a photojournalist around the world for the past decade, has worn Afghan clothes during his time in the country. He is based in London, where he lives with his wife and child.


16th October 2006

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