Negotiations For Torsello's Release Continue

Oct 23, 2006

ROME, ITALY – The Italian Foreign Ministry says negotiations to free Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello in Afghanistan continue, despite the passage of a Monday deadline set by his abductors. And in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said yesterday 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.