Canadian journalist reported missing in tribal areas

New York, November 13, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by media reports in Pakistan and Canada that Khadija Abdul Qahaar, publisher of the Web site Jihad Unspun, was kidnapped Tuesday while traveling in the Bannu district in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, on the border with Afghanistan. 

The English-language Pakistani paper The News International, citing unnamed sources, first reported the story on Wednesday.

The News reported that “the Canadian female journalist, Khadija Abdul Qahaar, along with her translator and guide was on her way to Miramshah in North Waziristan  . . . by a taxi when some unidentified armed men kidnapped her.” Pakistani paper The Daily Times, citing local officials, today reported from Peshawar, the region’s main city, that tribal elders are negotiating for Qahaar’s and her colleagues’ release. The Times said there were three other people taken with her, but did not name them.

The Toronto Globe and Mail, CTV, and the Canadian Press news agency followed up on the News‘ story with Canadian authorities. CTV reported that a spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs would not confirm the report, but did confirm that a Canadian is missing in Pakistan. The department told CTV that it was not aware of any media requests to withhold news of the abduction, as had been the case when CBC reporter Mellissa Fung was kidnapped in Afghanistan last month. Many news organizations, and CPJ, cooperated with that request. CPJ’s call to the Department of Foreign Affairs was not immediately returned.

“We are trying to learn more details of Khadija Qahaar’s disappearance, but obviously we are greatly concerned about her safety,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “It’s clear from her Web site that Qahaar was motivated by a strong desire to inform the world about the struggle in the region. We hope that those holding her recognize the important work she’s doing and release her right away.”

Qahaar, a Canadian, changed her name from Beverly Giesbrecht when she converted to Islam. Her Web site says it was launched to provide independent news coverage of the fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas and neighboring Afghanistan. The site says it seeks to provide a “clear view of the U.S. war on ‘terrorism’.”

In an October 22 posting on the site, Qahaar asked for financial support from the site’s users: “send whatever contribution you can to assist us to return to Canada and Britain (I am Canadian, our other member with me is from Britain and we also have some local Pakistanis who can not leave the country I am afraid). As a woman, I have already had a few close calls in the tribal areas as kidnappers and thieves are running loose even in Peshawar but alhamdulilah Allah has helped us.”