Journalist Kidnapped In South Afghanistan

By Terry Friel
Sunday, October 15, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 14 -- Gunmen have kidnapped an Italian photojournalist in southern Afghanistan, news reports and aid workers said Saturday.

The reported abduction of Gabriele Torsello, which Italian authorities have not yet confirmed, came as two NATO soldiers were killed in combat in the south in the bloodiest year since a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban rulers in 2001.

NATO said in a statement that the two soldiers were killed and three wounded in a clash with insurgents in Kandahar on Saturday. The alliance did not give the nationalities of the dead.

Torsello was seized by five gunmen on the highway from Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to neighboring Kandahar province, the independent Pajhwok news agency quoted Torsello's traveling companion, Gholam Mohammad, as saying.

Pajhwok said its call to Torsello's mobile phone was answered by a man saying: "We are the Taliban and we have abducted the foreigner on charges of spying."

Attempts to reach Torsello on his mobile failed. But a Taliban spokesman said the group was not involved in any abductions, blaming criminals instead.

An Italian online newspaper, PeaceReporter, which specializes in reports from conflict zones, said Torsello had confirmed by phone that he had been kidnapped but not by whom.

PeaceReporter said Torsello had spoken briefly to the security chief at a hospital run by the Italian relief organization Emergency in Lashkar Gah. He said he did not know where he was being held. Torsello said he had been kidnapped Thursday from a public bus, according to PeaceReporter.

Helmand and Kandahar have been the scenes of heavy fighting in the past few months between Taliban insurgents and NATO forces.

A week ago, two German journalists were shot dead in the relatively safe north of Afghanistan on their way to Bamian, site of two famed giant Buddhas blown up by the Taliban in 2001.

Kidnappings, both for criminal and political reasons, are becoming increasingly common across Afghanistan.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company