Taliban-held journalist killed in army strike

New York, September 2, 2008–A journalist who had been kidnapped by a local Taliban group was killed when a Pakistani airstrike hit the private jail where he was being held in the Swat Valley in Pakistan’s tumultuous North West Frontier Province on Friday, according to local news reports citing a Taliban spokesman.

Militants abducted Abdul Aziz Shaheen, who worked for local newspapers including Urdu-language daily Azadi, on August 27, according to local news reports. The reason for the abduction is not known. A local press freedom group, the Pakistan Press Foundation, said the Taliban were angered by reports Shaheen had written about their activities. Shaheen’s car was set on fire a week before he was abducted, although it was not clear whether local Taliban were also responsible for that attack, the group reported. 

Owais Aslam Ali, the press foundation’s secretary-general, told CPJ that local journalists were scared to provide him with more information when he spoke with them by telephone about Shaheen’s abduction.

“Abdul Aziz Shaheen’s death highlights the extraordinary danger journalists face in this region,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists are at risk from security forces and militants alike in the course of their reporting.”

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said Shaheen was among at least 25 people killed in Friday’s strike, according to the Daily Times newspaper.

Pakistan’s army launched a major offensive in Swat in November 2007 to target pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah, known as the “Radio Mullah” for his use of unlicensed radio frequencies to broadcast speeches advocating Islamic law and calling on his followers to attack security personnel, according to published reports. He believed to be at large, news reports said.

Daily Nation correspondent Siraj Uddin was killed in a February suicide bombing in Swat.