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British troops free kidnapped reporter
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British commandos freed a New York Times reporter in an early Wednesday raid on a Taliban hide-out in northern Afghanistan. The journalist's Afghan translator and one of the troops were killed in the rescue, officials said.

Reporter Stephen Farrell was taken hostage Saturday along with his translator in the northern province of Kunduz when they went to cover a German-ordered airstrike of two hijacked fuel tankers. The bombing, carried out by US jets, caused a number of civilian casualties.

One British service member died during the early morning raid, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, while the Times reported that Farrell's Afghan translator, Sultan Munadi, 34, also was killed. Brown said that "we send his family our condolences." Farrell was unhurt.

Gunfire rang out from multiple sides during the rescue, and a Taliban commander who was in the house was killed, along with the owner of the house and a woman, said Mohammad Sami Yowar, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor.

Munadi was killed in the midst of the firefight, he said. A British defense official said he couldn't rule out the possibility he was killed by British gunfire.

Afghan officials over the weekend said about 70 people died when U.S. jets dropped two bombs on the tankers, igniting them in a massive explosion. There were reports that villagers who had come to collect fuel from the tankers were among the dead, and Farrell wanted to interview villagers.

The Times said that while Farrell and Munadi were interviewing Afghans near the bombing site, an old man approached them and warned them to leave. Soon after, gunshots rang out and people shouted that the Taliban were approaching.

Police had warned reporters who traveled to the capital of Kunduz to cover the tanker strike that the village in question was controlled by the Taliban and it would be dangerous to go there.The Times kept the kidnappings quiet out of concern for the men's safety, and most media outlets did not report the abductions following a request from the Times.

A story posted on the Times' Web site quoted Farrell saying he had been "extracted" by a commando raid carried out by "a lot of soldiers" in a firefight.

"I dived in a ditch," said Farrell. Moments later, he said he heard British voices and shouted, "British hostage!"The British voices told him to come over. As he did, Farrell said he saw Munadi.

"He was lying in the same position as he fell," Farrell told the Times. "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."

(China Daily via agencies September 10, 2009)

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