x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Militants deny kidnapping US journalist

Afghanistan's Taliban militant group denies any involvement in the kidnapping of a New York Times reporter.

KANDAHAR // Afghanistan's Taliban militant group yesterday denied any involvement in the kidnapping of a New York Times reporter who escaped to freedom on Friday after seven months in captivity. David Rohde and a local reporter, who were abducted outside of Kabul along with their driver, "just walked over the wall of the compound" where they were being held captive in Pakistan's remote North Waziristan region, Rohde's wife Kristen Mulvihill told the Times after speaking to her husband.

The Taliban, the militant group responsible for most such kidnappings in Afghanistan as part of an insurgency they are waging against the Kabul government, said the group was not involved in the abduction. "Even at that time when they were kidnapped we had not claimed their kidnapping," Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, said by phone from an undisclosed location. "And now ? we are not aware of how they were freed or escaped. We're not involved at all and we do not know who had kidnapped them," the rebel spokesman said.

Rohde and his Afghan colleague Tahir Ludin made their escape on Friday night and managed to find a Pakistani army scout who escorted them to a nearby army base. They were flown to a US air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, The New York Times said. Their driver did not escape with them. Rohde, 41, was said to be in good health, while Ludin injured his foot in the escape, according to the Times. Although occasional reports of the abduction had found their way onto the internet, the Times and other media had kept the kidnapping quiet out of a concern for the men's safety, it said.

Taliban insurgents who were ousted from power by a US-led offensive in late 2001 have in the past used kidnapping as a tool for ransom as well as a bargaining chip to secure the release of jailed comrades from Afghan prisons. * Agence France-Presse