Daring Raid Rescues Times Reporter Held Capitve in Afghanistan
New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, held captive by Afghanistan militants since Saturday, was rescued during a military commando raid by NATO forces earlier today. Unfortunately, his interpreter, Sultan Munadi; a British commando, and an Afghan woman were killed in the rescue attempt.
He was working near Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, on a story concerning the aftermath of Friday’s NATO airstrikes on Friday that resulted in scores of deaths, including that of civilians, Eric Schmitt of the Times reported.
Schmitt gives more details of the rescue in his report:
In a brief telephone call about 7:30 p.m. New York time on Tuesday, Mr. Farrell told Susan Chira, the foreign editor of The Times: “I’m out! I’m free!”
Ms. Chira said Mr. Farrell told her that he had been “extracted” by a commando raid carried out by “a lot of soldiers” in a fierce firefight with his captors. He said Mr. Munadi was fatally shot. “He was trying to protect me up to the last minute,” Mr. Farrell said.
A statement from Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain announced the commando’s death, and an Afghan official confirmed the death of the woman.
Mr. Farrell, 46, joined The Times in July 2007 as a correspondent in the Baghdad bureau. He has spent many years covering the struggles of the Afghan and Iraqi people and built a respected reputation for his reporting on the Middle East and South Asia. He holds British and Irish citizenship.
Mr. Munadi, who was 34 and the father of two children, had worked regularly with The Times and other news organizations and was in the process of studying for a master’s degree in public policy in Germany. Back briefly in Afghanistan, he had returned to his role as a translator. He had hoped to one day work in public education to ease the problem of widespread illiteracy in Afghanistan.
Mr. Farrell, speaking to colleagues at The Times, said that he and Mr. Munadi were moved several times over their four days of captivity, and were finally moved into a very small room. In the first two days, he said, they had felt optimistic that they would be released.
The men holding them talked freely on their cellphones, Mr. Farrell said, and on the third day, some new Taliban figures, evidently more senior and from outside the immediate district, arrived. Mr. Munadi told Mr. Farrell they discussed moving the captives from the Kunduz area.
The atmosphere grew menacing, Mr. Farrell said. The captors taunted Mr. Munadi, reminding him of a case two years ago in which an Italian journalist taken hostage in Helmand Province was freed while his Afghan translator was beheaded.
Early Wednesday, the thump-thumping of approaching helicopters became audible.
“We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid,” Mr. Farrell said. “We thought they would kill us.”
The captors scattered, he said, and the two men initially stayed put, fearing to be caught in any cross-fire. Then one of the captors came back and tipped his gun toward them, he said, but left without firing. The two men waited a bit, then made their way out of the room into a courtyard. Mr. Munadi leading, they scuttled along the outside wall of the compound. “It was a big, high mud-brick wall,” Mr. Farrell said. He said he could hear British and Afghan voices. “There were bullets all around us,” he said.
In the darkness, they ran along the wall for 60 feet or so, and then Mr. Munadi put up his hands and walked into the open, calling “journalist, journalist!” Gunfire broke out and he fell, Mr. Farrell said, just a couple of feet away.
“He was three seconds away from safety,” Mr. Farrell said. “I thought we were safe. He just walked into a hail of bullets.”
He said he dove into a ditch and waited a couple of minutes, listening for which direction the British voices were coming from, and then shouted, “British hostage! British hostage!”
The British voices told him to come over. As he did, Mr. Farrell said, he saw Mr. Munadi.
“He was lying in the same position as he fell,” Mr. Farrell said. “That’s all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He’s dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped.”
Neither The Times nor Mr. Farrell’s family knew that the military operation was taking place.