Plea To Free Italian Photographer

Oct 28, 2006

LONDON - Lord Nazir Ahmed, Britain's first Muslim Lord and a friend of kidnapped photojournalist Gabrielle Torsello, has joined with Italian Muslims, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and even the Taliban in calling for Torsello's abductors in Afghanistan to release him immediately.

At a press conference in London arranged by the National Union of Journalists, Lord Ahmed said, "I was horrified to learn that he has been arrested by five bandits, who are holding him in Afghanistan, and I call upon these people to release him immediately and unconditionally."

Lord Ahmed's comments were reported to the Muslim world by Aljazeera. Torsello's book, The Heart of Kashmir, contains a foreword written by Lord Ahmed, who has known the photojournalist for eight years, he says.

The last reported word from Torsello's kidnappers was on October 23 when they said he was still alive, although they did not allow any direct contact with him.

In Rome on Friday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said negotiations to free Torsello were continuing. And in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said that Torsello should be set free.

"The abductors who claimed they were Taliban did so to defame us," Ahmadi told the Pajhwok Afghan News by phone from an undisclosed location. They quote the spokesman as saying that Torsello is "innocent, and should not be made to pay for the actions of the Italian government."

The Pajhwok Afghan News also quotes Ahmadi as saying, "The kidnappers of the Italian journalist are robbers and they have abducted the journalist for money. We will drag them to court if we find them."

In southern Italy, Torsello's parents called on the kidnappers to release their son to celebrate the end of Ramadan. "This is a day of joy for them," Vittoria Augenti told reporters outside their home. "May they celebrate together with Gabriele."

In Rome the Union of Italian Islamic Communities (UCOII) used their Web site to urge the kidnappers to release Torsello, saying that kidnapping is "religiously unacceptable." Noting that Torsello is a convert to Islam, they said, "Kash Torsello, like other journalists who work in war zones, record horror so it can be seen and stopped."

Torsello was kidnapped at gunpoint October 12 in Afghanistan by five men who said they would kill him if their demands for the release of Abdul Rahman, and the removal of Italian troops from Afghanistan, were not met by sundown Sunday.

"We have not spoken to Torsello, but they have assured us that he is in a good state of health," a source for the Italian NGO group Emergency said from their operating center in Lashkargah, Afghanistan. Torsello's kidnappers were communicating through Emergency, a charity group that sets up and staffs medical clinics in Afghanistan and in other conflict zones.

Rahman, 41, who converted to Christianity 16 years ago while working as a volunteer with an aid group helping refugees in Pakistan, left Afghanistan in March and was granted asylum in Italy after he was charged with leaving Islam. The charge is punishable by the death penalty in Afghanistan.

Torsello, who shoots for ZUMA Press, had been photographing relief workers with Emergency when he left for another region of Afghanistan and was kidnapped. His abductors claimed that they were Taliban, but Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi says that they are not involved in Torsello's kidnapping and that they have not made any demands.

When he was abducted last week, Torsello was riding in a vehicle on a highway between Lashkargah and Kandahar. ZUMA Press director Scott Mc Kiernan says that Torsello’s translator, Ghulam Mohammad, who is Afghan and who was travelling with the photographer, says that five armed men stopped the bus and searched it. "Torsello was the only foreigner on the bus," Mc Kiernan said, meaning the other riders were all Afghan. "They came on and took him."

Based in London, Torsello has been in Afghanistan for more than a month covering the plight of Afghans in a war zone, with a special focus on medical issues. He had been shooting pictures of an Italian NGO, a medical volunteer group called Emergency, for about a week before leaving on the bus for Kandahar. Torsello’s parents live in Italy, and he has two children living in the UK, Mc Kiernan said.