Seized Times Reporter Is Freed in Afghan Raid That Kills Aide

Stephen Farrell, a New York Times reporter held captive by militants in northern Afghanistan, was freed in a military commando raid early Wednesday, but his Afghan interpreter was killed during the rescue effort.
Stephen Farrell, left, and his Afghan interpreter, Sultan Munadi, right, interviewing a wounded man in a hospital in Kunduz on Friday. The two journalists were abducted the next day. Mr. Farrell was rescued early Wednesday; Mr. Munadi was killed during the rescue effort.
Marko Georgiev for The New York Times
Stephen Farrell, a reporter for The New York Times, in Iraq in 2007.
Armed gunmen seized Mr. Farrell and his interpreter, Sultan Munadi, four days ago while they were working in a village south of Kunduz.
An Afghan journalist who spoke to villagers in the area said that civilians, including women and children, were also killed in the firefight to free the journalists. That report could not be independently verified, and details of the operation itself were sketchy.
A British commando was killed in the raid, The Associated Press quoted a military official as saying.
Mr. Farrell and Mr. Munadi were abducted on Saturday while they were reporting the aftermath of NATO airstrikes on Friday that exploded two fuel tankers hijacked by Taliban militants. Afghan officials have said up to 90 people, including many civilians, were killed in the attack, which NATO officials are now investigating.
In a brief telephone call about 7:30 p.m. New York time on Tuesday, Mr. Farrell told Susan Chira, the foreign editor of The Times: “I’m out! I’m free!”
Ms. Chira said Mr. Farrell told her that he had been “extracted” by a commando raid carried out by “a lot of soldiers” in a fierce firefight with his captors. Mr. Farrell said he had also called his wife.
Mr. Farrell, 46, joined The Times in July 2007 as a correspondent in the Baghdad bureau. He has spent many years covering the struggles of the Afghan and Iraqi people and built a respected reputation for his reporting on the Middle East and South Asia.
Mr. Munadi had worked regularly with The Times and other news organizations.
In a second phone call to a New York Times reporter in Kabul, Mr. Farrell gave this account of what happened when he and his captors heard the thump-thumping of approaching helicopters.
“We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid,” Mr. Farrell said. “We thought they would kill us. We thought should we go out.”
Mr. Farrell said as he and Mr. Munadi ran outside, he heard voices. “There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices.”
At the end of a wall, Mr. Farrell said Mr. Munadi went forward, shouting: “Journalist! Journalist!” but dropped in a hail of bullets. “I dived in a ditch,” said Mr. Farrell, who said he did not know whether the shots had come from allied or militant fire.
After a minute or two, Mr. Farrell, who holds dual Irish-British citizenship, said he heard more British voices and shouted, “British hostage!” The British voices told him to come over. As he did, Mr. Farrell said he saw Mr. Munadi.
“He was lying in the same position as he fell,” Mr. Farrell said. “That’s all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He’s dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped.”
Mr. Farrell told the Times colleague that he was unhurt.
Neither The Times nor Mr. Farrell’s family knew that the military operation was taking place.
Until now, the kidnapping had been kept quiet by The Times and most other news media organizations out of concern for the men’s safety.
“We feared that media attention would raise the temperature and increase the risk to the captives,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. “We’re overjoyed that Steve is free, but deeply saddened that his freedom came at such a cost. We are doing all we can to learn the details of what happened. Our hearts go out to Sultan’s family.”
The rescue of Mr. Farrell came about 11 weeks after David Rohde, another reporter for The Times, escaped and made his way to freedom after more than seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In that case as well, The Times and other news organizations kept Mr. Rohde’s kidnapping silent out of fear for his safety.
Mr. Rohde, who worked with Mr. Munadi in Afghanistan, called him “an extraordinary journalist, colleague and human being.”
“He represented the best of Afghanistan,” Mr. Rohde said. “It was an honor to work with him.”
Mr. Farrell’s local Afghan driver, whom The Times did not identify to protect his safety, evaded capture, and gave this account of what happened last Saturday morning.
 
 
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