U.S. Journalist Held Captive by Taliban Safely Escapes

A Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter is free after more than seven months in captivity in Afghanistan after escaping from his captors. Video by AP
By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer  
Saturday, June 20, 2009; 12:45 PM

NEW YORK, June 20 -- A New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban and held for the past seven months in the mountainous region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border escaped, along with an Afghan reporter, by climbing over a wall and finding a nearby Pakistani army base, the newspaper said in a report posted on its Web site.

The reporter, David Rohde, 41, was taken captive Nov. 10 with local reporter Tahir Ludin and their driver, while he was in the early stages of researching a book on Afghanistan. News organizations, including The Washington Post, did not report on the abduction at the request of the Times, which feared that publication of the news could endanger the lives of the men.

Rohde traveled to Kabul, the Afghan capital, in early November, and was kidnapped after he, Ludin and their driver, Assadullah Mangal, set out in a car for a prearranged interview with a Taliban commander. He told colleagues at the Times' bureau in Kabul that he believed he would be fine, but he left instructions on whom to call in case he did not return.

Rohde, a two time Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, was not on assignment for the Times when he was abducted but was working on a book about the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Rohde was apparently planning a journey to the eastern province of Logar to meet with a top commander linked to the insurgent network controlled by Jalaludin Haqqani and his son, Sirajudin Haqqani. The Haqqani network, believed to control large swaths of eastern Afghanistan, has emerged in recent years as a powerful antagonist to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and root out insurgents in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. The Haqqani network has been suspected of launching a number of attacks in recent years, including a deadly suicide bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed more than 50 people in June 2008.

Ludin, the local reporter, has worked with several Western news organizations and arranged other high level meetings with Taliban commanders for journalists over the years, and he arranged the meeting at Rohde's request.

The Times said today that at the time of their escape, Rohde, Ludin and Mangal, were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. The paper said the driver opted to stay with the Taliban.

The Times quoted Rohde's wife, Kirsten Mulvihill, saying Rohde and Ludin escaped by climbing over a wall of the compound where they were being held, and finding their way to a Pakistani army scout who escorted them to a nearby Pakistani military base. The two were then flown to an American military base at Bagram in Afghanistan, just north of Kabul.

Senior U.S. and Pakistani officials with knowledge of the case, who have spoken on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic and security concerns, have confirmed that Rohde's abductors reportedly demanded a multi-million-dollar ransom and the release of several insurgent commanders in exchange for Rohde's safe return. It is unclear what if any role the U.S. government played in any of the negotiations, but State Department officials at the U.S. embassies in Islamabad and Kabul have been aware of the kidnapping for months.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, and Rohde's family declined to discuss details of the efforts to free the captives, except to say that no ransom money was paid and no Taliban or other prisoners were released.

"Kidnapping, tragically, is a flourishing industry in much of the world," Keller said. "As other victims have told us, discussing your strategy just offers guidance for future kidnappers."

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