Taliban release Italian reporter, fate of translator unknown

New York, March 19, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes news that Italian daily La Repubblica reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo has been released today by Taliban kidnappers after two weeks in captivity.

CPJ is alarmed by Taliban claims that Mastrogiacomo’s Afghan translator Ajmal Naskhbandi was not released, despite earlier reports that he was also freed. Meanwhile, the Taliban repeated earlier statements that they had killed his Afghan driver Sayed Agha. The three were abducted March 5 in Helmand province.

“We are relieved that Daniele Mastrogiacomo has been freed, but we are concerned for the well-being of his Afghan translator Ajmal Naskhbandi,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call for his immediate safe return.”

Mastrogiacomo was in good health today at a hospital in Kabul. In a video clip aired on La Repubblica’s Web site, he thanked supporters, saying, “I knew you wouldn’t abandon me.”

Mastrogiacomo, who said he was taken to 15 different locations after his abduction and that his hands and feet were bound, added, “I managed to get out of it thanks to the help of the government, the foreign ministry, all my friends and colleagues.”

The Afghan news agency Pajhwok reported that the Italian journalist was freed in exchange for the release of five Taliban prisoners.

The Italian journalist told colleagues that he had seen his captors release binds on Ajmal before the two were separated today, according to Carlo Bonini, special correspondent for La Repubblica in Rome. But the Taliban later told reporters at Pajhwok that they were still holding Ajmal.

“Until yesterday, it was clear that Daniele and his interpreter would be freed together. We don’t know what changed,” Bonini said.

Taliban spokesmen issued several different demands after the abduction of the three men, including the withdrawal of the approximately 2,000 Italian troops from the NATO force operating in Afghanistan and a prison swap for men being held by the Italian government.