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Taliban claims to have "captured" Italian journalist

The Taliban has claimed to have “captured” an Italian journalist and his Afghan translator and driver in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a veteran reporter for the daily La Repubblica based in Afghanistan, has been out of contact with his newspaper since Sunday. The Taliban Tuesday said it had seized a man it alleged was a spy posing as a journalist, along with the man’s two Afghan assistants.

An undated still frame from TV grab made available by the Italian daily La Repubblica, showing Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. The newspaper has lost contact with Mastrogiacomo in Afghanistan, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, March 6, 2007. Rome daily La Repubblica has had no contact with Mastrogiacomo since Sunday, the ministry said. (AP Photo/La Repubblica)

La Repubblica Director Ezio Mauro, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said that Mastrogiacomo was in Kandahar province on an “important reporting mission” when he last contacted editors three days ago. Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Franco Danieli, told the Senate in Rome Tuesday that a statement attributed to the Taliban and released in Kabul claimed the group had captured a journalist from La Repubblica and accused him of being a spy. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema later told the Italian broadcaster Tg1 that officials believe Mastrogiacomo “was effectively captured by the Taliban’s military structure,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.

“We are greatly concerned about the welfare of our colleague Mastrogiacomo, who was doing his job documenting the news,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on those holding any members of the press to release them unharmed immediately.”

“We point out with firmness to the Taliban chiefs that kidnapping journalists is contrary to all humanitarians laws,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “Mastrogiacomo is not a spy but a journalist, one who was doing his job as a reporter. We appeal for his release.”

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) General Secretary Aidan White said, “Whoever is holding Daniele must release him quickly and unconditionally. It is absurd to hear suggestions that he is being held because he is a spy – he is working as a journalist, covering an important assignment as a media professional. His capture affects the entire community of journalists both in the region and worldwide and that is why we say he must be freed immediately.”

Initial reports of a journalist’s abduction included conflicting information. In Afghanistan, a Taliban spokesman told AP that the group had detained an unnamed Briton and two Afghan assistants in Helmand province. He said the Briton claimed to work for La Repubblica, but the paper told CPJ that only Mastrogiacomo was missing.

La Repubblica described the 52-year-old Mastrogiacomo as a veteran journalist. He was born in Pakistan, where his father was an engineer for an Italian company. He has dual Italian-Swiss citizenship, but was travelling with his Italian passport, the paper said. The paper said Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for 27 years, has worked since 2002 as a staff correspondent in Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Both Kandahar and Helmand provinces are strongholds of the Taliban, drug traffickers and criminal groups. NATO and Afghan forces Tuesday launched what they described as their biggest offensive yet against the Taliban and drug lords in Helmand.

Several journalists, including an Al-Jazeera crew and two Pakistani reporters, have been detained by the Taliban in recent weeks but in all cases they were quickly released safe and sound. On the other hand, freelance photographer Gabriele Torsello was held near Kandahar for 23 days in October 2006 by criminal groups, while the Taliban called for his release.

Date posted: March 7, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 20