CPJ urges government to find kidnapped journalist quickly

New York, December 5, 2005 —The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Pakistani authorities to act with the utmost speed to find journalist Hayat Ullah Khan, who was kidnapped today by unidentified gunmen in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, where authorities say a top Al-Qaeda leader was killed last week. Five men with AK-47 assault rifles forced Khan’s car off the road, his brother Mohammad Ehsan, told CPJ. The brother, who was also in the car, said the gunmen were “local people.”

Khan reported on a December 1 explosion in the town of Haisori in North Waziristan which Pakistani authorities claim killed Abu Hamza Rabia, a senior Al Qaeda commander. Khan, who worked for the Urdu-language daily Ausaf, contradicted the authorities’ report that Rabia died when munitions exploded inside a house. He quoted local tribesmen as saying the house was hit by a missile fired from an aircraft. U.S. networks ABC and NBC have both reported that the blast appeared to have been caused by a U.S. Hellfire missile fired from an unmanned, remote-controlled Predator aircraft.

“We call on the Pakistani government to do everything in its power to find Hayat Ullah Khan,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “It is imperative that local officials in this troubled and lawless region act swiftly to save the life of this brave journalist.”

Khan is based in North Waziristan. He also works as a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency. Khan has reported for many other local and Western news organizations including ABC News. According to CPJ research, Khan has received numerous threats from security forces, alleged Taliban members, and local tribesman because of his reporting.

Maqsood Khan, the local government administrator, said that officials had launched an investigation into the kidnapping, Reuters reported.

The Pakistani army has been battling militants in the semi-autonomous tribal areas since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban government and forced its supporters across the border. Conditions for local journalists have steadily deteriorated since early last year, when the military intensified its offensive in the region. Both the military and the Taliban threaten and attack the press, local journalists say. Since two journalists were gunned down in February, it has become impossible for local reporters to cover the region safely.