Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Afghan kidnappers propose to trade Italian journalist

AFP , ROME

The kidnappers of an Italian photojournalist in Afghanistan demanded on Tuesday the return of an Afghan Christian convert living in Italy in exchange for keeping the reporter alive, an Italian online newspaper reported.

The PeaceReporter Web site said the kidnappers of 36-year-old Gabriele Torsello had made the demand in a telephone call to the Italian non-governmental organization Emergency and had given four days for their demand to be met.

"We want this issue resolved before the end of Ramadan," the PeaceReporter Web site quoted them as saying.

The holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends on Oct. 24.

Earlier this year, Italy granted political asylum to 41-year-old Afghan Abdul Rahman, who faced possible execution under Shariah law in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity.

Rahman was freed in secret in late March after the Afghan Supreme Court said it had doubts about his mental capacity to stand trial.

That decision reassured Kabul's Western allies, who had put unprecedented pressure on the new democratic government to honor freedom of religion.

But it caused outcry among hardliners in Afghanistan, who are now demanding that Rahman be extradited.

On Tuesday, the abductors of photojournalist Torsello demanded Rahman's return in a phone call to a security official at a hospital run by Emergency in Lashkar Gah, provincial capital of the southern Helmand Province.

Torsello, an independent reporter who converted to Islam, was allowed to exchange a few words with the official and told him he was "so-so."

On Monday night, he had phoned the same official to say he was all right.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema said on Monday the government had activated "all its contacts" to secure the release of the reporter, who was kidnapped on Oct. 12.

The Italian media said on Sunday that Torsello had been accused by the Taliban of spying, but a spokesman for the radical Islamic movement, Yusuf Ahmadi, said he was not aware of any kidnapping.

Torsello, married with a son, is based in London and has worked in hotspots including Kashmir and Nepal.

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