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Kidnapped NY Times reporter escapes Taliban

world Updated: Jun 21, 2009 01:03 IST
New York Times

A New York Times reporter kidnapped last November by the Taliban and held in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan has escaped to freedom, the newspaper reported Saturday on its website.

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 with her husband.

Rohde and the Afghani journalist, Tahir Ludin, made their daring escape 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 newspaper reported.

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.

"From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David's family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages. The kidnappers initially said as much," said Times executive editor Bill Keller.

Rohde won a Pultizer prize for his reporting on the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica for the Christian Science Monitor before joining the Times.

He was working on a book about the US involvement in Afghanistan when he was invited to interview a Taliban commander, but disappeared November 10 after he left the Times bureau.

"We've been married nine months," Mulvihill said. "And seven of those, David has been in captivity."

Rohde escaped in North Waziristan, a tribal area bordering Afghanistan where Washington says Al-Qaida are plotting attacks on the West.

It is only nominally under the control of the central Pakistan government, and kidnappings by Taliban and militia are common.

Earlier this month Taliban militants kidnapped 80 students and staff from an army-run college in North Waziristan, but they were released days later to tribal elders.

On Friday, Pakistani fighter jets bombed Taliban militant hideouts in neighboring South Waziristan, as the death toll from a suspected US missile strike Thursday on a training school for Islamist extremists in the area rose to 13.

The rugged northwest area is the stronghold of Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, and Washington also alleges that Al-Qaeda fighters who fled Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion are holed up in the region.

Keller and the Rohde family declined to discuss details of any efforts to free the captives but stressed that no ransom had been paid and no Taliban or other prisoners were released.

"Kidnapping, tragically, is a flourishing industry in much of the world," Keller said. "As other victims have told us, discussing your strategy just offers guidance for future kidnappers."

The kidnapping cases are unwelcome reminders for violence-hit Pakistan of the 2002 abduction of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was later murdered by Islamic extremists.