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Afghan gunmen seize Italian journalist

KABUL (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped an Italian photojournalist in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, accusing him of spying, an Afghan news agency reported.

The Pajhwok agency named the journalist simply as Gabriele and reported a call to his Cmobile phone had been answered by someone who said: "We are the Taliban and we have abducted the foreigner on charges of spying."

The Italian online newspaper PeaceReporter, which specializes in reports from conflict zones, named the journalist as Gabriele Torsello and said he had confirmed by phone that he had been kidnapped.

PeaceReporter said he had spoken briefly on the phone to the head of security at a hospital in Lashkar Gah run by the Italian relief organization Emergency. He said he did not know where he was being held.

According to PeaceReporter, Torsello said he had been kidnapped on Thursday, while traveling on a public bus.

Attempts by Reuters to reach Torsello on his mobile phone failed.

Pajhwok quoted Gholam Mohammad, who said he had been traveling with the journalist, as saying they had been stopped by five gunmen on the road from the capital of Helmand province to the capital of neighboring Kandahar province.

The Italian military in Rome said Torsello was based in London and had been working in southern Afghanistan, and could not be contacted at present. Torsello's Web site says he is in Helmand and available for assignments.

Helmand and Kandahar, in the Taliban's southern heartland, are two of Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces and have been the scene of heavy fighting in the past few months between Taliban guerrillas and NATO forces.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the violence.

The Italian embassy in Kabul said it had not heard of a kidnapping and Afghan officials, many involved in functions for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, could not be reached immediately for comment.

Earlier this month two German journalists were shot dead in the relatively safe north of Afghanistan on their way to Bamiyan, site of two famed giant carved rock Buddhas blown up by the Taliban in 2001.

Kidnappings, both for criminal and political reasons, are becoming increasingly common across Afghanistan five years after the then-Taliban government was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion.

(Additional reporting by Gavin Jones in Rome)

Date posted: October 14, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 10