An Associated Press reporter who grew up in Oakton and graduated from a Falls Church high school is one of two reporters being held by Muslim fundamentalist guerrillas in Afghanistan, the State Department said yesterday.
The AP's John Jennings and Terence White, a New Zealander who reports for Agence France-Presse, were captured Monday by fighters from Afghanistan's Hezb-i-Islami faction, which is led by Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
"Both are reportedly unharmed and in good health," State Department spokesman Mike McCurry told the Associated Press. "Despite assurances by Hekmatyar's organization that Jennings and White would be quickly released, they are still being held. The United States is concerned about this situation."
Hekmatyar's aides have promised that the journalists will be freed, saying they are in good condition and being treated as guests rather than prisoners, the AP reported. Hezb-i-Islami officials said that the reporters happened to be with 28 Afghans captured at the time and that they were not intentionally targeted.
"We're hopeful," Jennings's mother, Mary Jennings, 53, said Friday. "They are both very seasoned and very accustomed to the Afghan way of life."
John Jennings, 33, went to Pakistan seven years ago and has been reporting in Afghanistan for the AP since 1991. He lives in Kabul. White has been working in Afghanistan for more than a year.
Jennings graduated from George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church in 1978, where he worked on the school newspaper and ran cross country, his mother said. He was a Middle Eastern studies major at the University of Arizona, she said.
Jennings, who speaks fluent Farsi and other languages, has a younger brother, Jason, and a stepsister, Rachel Ross, his mother said. "Jason is here wringing his hands," said Mary Jennings, a lawyer for the Merit Systems Protection Board in the District. She tried to get word to her son through the Red Cross, saying that everyone hopes he's being treated well as reported and asking him to "call us when he gets out."
Jennings said she last saw her son in June, at her home on Vale Road in Oakton. While traveling with her son, she met White, who has a "real cool head," she said. "They're together. That makes me feel a lot better," she said.
Meanwhile, in Dayton, Ohio, John Jennings's father, Max Jennings, was trying to learn more about his son's situation. Jennings, editor of the Dayton Daily News, said his son visited him in the spring. "My staff is all upset," said Jennings, a former foreign correspondent for United Press International.
Max Jennings said his son, whom he adopted when John was 5, is very familiar with the people and the politics in Afghanistan. "All of a sudden it seems like the rules have changed. That's what's most disturbing to me," Jennings said.
The reporters were covering a battle between Hezb-i-Islami and President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-i-Islami militia near Tagab, 40 miles northeast of Kabul, the Afghan capital, the AP said.
U.S. officials have contacted the Afghan Embassy in Washington and are following up with officials and Hekmatyar's representatives in Islamabad, Pakistan, to press for the pair's freedom, McCurry said.