Taliban Claims Kidnapping of Journalist

By NOOR KHAN
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 7, 2007; 3:07 AM

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The Taliban claimed Wednesday that it had kidnapped an Italian journalist, three days after an Italian newspaper lost touch with a veteran correspondent in southern Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the militia said its "higher authorities" would decide what to do with the journalist and two Afghans it captured.

"We are investigating whether they are British spies," Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a man who claims to speak for the Taliban, told The Associated Press by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.

Ahmadi claimed that the militia had captured a man who introduced himself as a Briton who worked for Italian daily La Repubblica _ the same paper that raised the alarm about its reporter, Daniele Mastrogiacomo.

"The man we arrested is an Italian and he told us he worked for the Rome-based La Repubblica newspaper," Ahmadi said. Asked to identify the Italian, Ahmadi sent a text message with the name "Danikel."

In Italy, the paper said it had not heard from Mastrogiacomo since Sunday. The reporter had been on assignment in Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold in southern Afghanistan, editor-in-chief Ezio Mauro said according to La Repubblica's Web site.

Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said on Italy's Tg1 television news on Tuesday that officials did not believe Mastrogiacomo was "in the hands of a bunch of stragglers, but was effectively captured by the Taliban's military structure."

The ministry and the Italian Embassy in Kabul were trying to find the reporter.

Ahmadi said the journalist had been captured on Monday along with two Afghans as they traveled together by vehicle in Nad Ali district of Helmand province.

Ahmadi said the captured reporter had introduced himself as a Briton who had worked for La Repubblica in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, but had been living with British forces in Helmand and gathering information for them.

The British Foreign Office said Tuesday it appeared unlikely that the missing journalist was one of its nationals.

La Repubblica newspaper said Mastrogiacomo, 52, was born in Karachi, Pakistan, where his father was an engineer for an Italian company. He has dual Italian-Swiss citizenship, but was traveling only with his Italian passport, the paper said.


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